Topeka The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected a law, similar to one in Kansas, that requires proof of citizenship to register to vote.
The dispute was over a law in Arizona called Proposition 200 that requires would-be voters to document their U.S. citizenship to register to vote under the federal "Motor Voter" registration law.
Writing for the 7-2 majority, Justice Antonin Scalia ruled that federal law "precludes Arizona from requiring a federal form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself."
While the case focuses on Arizona, officials said it has implications for Kansas, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, which have similar laws.
"The proof of citizenship requirement in Kansas is almost identical to that of Arizona," said Louis Goseland, coordinator for the KanVote Coalition, which has been working to repeal the Kansas law.
He said the Supreme Court decision was "a victory for those who champion voter rights and a defeat for those who try to restrict the vote."
Goseland said he hopes Kansas legislators will now repeal the law. As of Jan. 1, any person registering to vote in Kansas for the first time is required to provide proof of U.S. citizenship.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who works across the nation on anti-immigration and voting legislation, was instrumental in getting the law passed in Kansas and has defended the Arizona statute.
Kobach said the U.S. Supreme Court decision should have no impact on the Kansas law because the Kansas proof of citizenship requirement was drafted to avoid the legal issues that beset the Arizona law.
Kobach, a former University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor, said the Kansas law doesn’t automatically reject federal voter registration forms, as the Arizona law did. Instead, Kansas election officials hold the forms until a person’s citizenship can be verified.
That holding pattern is called "suspended status."
But Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said the proof of citizenship requirement is causing problems that may frustrate voters and cost taxpayers more money to fix.
The problem, Shew said, is that just six months after the new requirements took effect, there are quite a few would-be voters whose registration is in the suspended status. That's because when people show proof of citizenship to get a driver's license, the state's Division of Motor Vehicles is unable to forward those documents to election officials. Election officials then have to send letters and contact those people to get their voter registration cleared up.
"The large number of suspended voters right now is a concern among election officials throughout the state," Shew said.
Anticipating that this problem will grow with next year's election cycle, Shew said he has requested additional funds for outreach and temporary help.
There are 360 voter registrations in suspended status in Douglas County, and approximately 10,000 statewide, although officials say it is impossible to tell how many are suspended because of the lack of citizenship documentation.