Simple Federal Voter Registration Form Still Prevails in Kansas and Arizona

DENVER, CO - The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has granted MALDEF's request for a stay of a recent court order that disrupts the national system of registering voters in federal elections. In March, a federal district court in Kansas ordered the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to make changes to the federal mail voter registration form in order to require voter registrants in Kansas and Arizona to provide additional paperwork, unavailable to numerous eligible applicants, to prove their U.S. citizenship. MALDEF and other counsel representing intervenors appealed the decision because it runs contrary to federal law and to the result in Arizona v. ITCA, a case MALDEF won last June, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held, by a 7-2 vote, that state-voting laws must yield to the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993.

"The extraordinary stay granted this week both demonstrates the importance of preserving every citizen's right to vote and exposes the recklessness of Arizona's and Kansas's current course," said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. "Restricting the right to vote with absolutely no evidence to support the suggestion of significant voter fraud is itself a fraud on American democracy."

Federal law, specifically the NVRA, permits U.S. citizens from any state to register to vote by means of a simple, standardized postcard. Applicants sign the postcards, under penalty of perjury, affirming their citizenship and other qualifications. No additional documentation is necessary or requested under this law. In its Arizona v. ITCA decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Arizona cannot require additional paperwork related to citizenship to register for federal elections. The U.S. Supreme Court made clear that only the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) can decide whether to incorporate state documentary proof-of-citizenship requirements into the federal form.

Arizona and Kansas have never been able to show that a single non-citizen used the federal voter registration post card to register to vote, yet they requested that the EAC make the citizenship changes to the federal form late last year. In a comprehensive decision nearly 50 pages in length, the acting EAC executive director denied that request earlier this year. The two states asked to have the EAC decision reviewed by a U.S. District Court in Kansas, and in March, that court ordered the EAC to include the requested citizenship changes.

"The appeals court has stepped in to preserve the right to vote in these critical months before the national midterm elections," said, Nina Perales, MALDEF Vice President of Litigation. "We expect the appeals court to rule in our favor and to declare that Arizona and Kansas are not exempt from federal law."

Arizona's voter registration law prevented over 30,000 individuals from registering to vote before the federal courts barred further implementation of the onerous and unnecessary requirements. And, in Kansas, a similar law has resulted in over 17,000 voter registrations being placed in suspense. Taken together, these laws have disenfranchised nearly 50,000 U.S. citizens who are otherwise eligible to vote in federal elections.

Co-counsel with MALDEF are the law firms of O'Melveny & Myers LLP and Husch Blackwell. MALDEF filed its notice of appeal jointly with other organizations representing intervenors in the litigation, including Project Vote; Thompson Law Firm, LLC; Arnold & Porter, LLP; Disability Rights Center of Kansas; Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Steptoe & Johnson, LLP; The Sparks Law Firm, P.C.; Osborn Maledon, P.A.; AARP Foundation Litigation; Kirkland & Ellis, LLP; Fleeson, Gooing, Coulson & Kitch L.L.C.; and Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

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Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund