voter registration lawsuit kansas
Voting rights attorneys in Kansas, Georgia and Alabama have sued state officials over a requirement that voters prove their citizenship when registering to vote. Pictured: A voter registration form and absentee ballot application form are pictured in Columbus, Ohio, in October 2012. Reuters/Matt Sullivan

The League of Women Voters, a national voting rights advocacy group, has sued a federal commission charged with standardizing voter registration. But instead of defending its voting commission, the Obama administration appears to agree with the basis of the lawsuit seeking injunction against a proof of citizenship requirement on voter registration forms in three states.

According to papers filed Monday in U.S. District Court, the Department of Justice has urged Judge Richard Leon to block a decision by the director of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) allowing registration forms in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia to insist that voters provide documentation of citizenship. The federal National Voter Registration Act requires states to allow voter registration when residents apply for or renew a state government-issued ID or driver’s license, but does not sanction proof of citizenship requirements on so-called "motor voter" forms.

Even though it’s the Justice Department’s job to defend the EAC, the Obama administration said acting commission director Brian Newby had erred when he issued a Jan. 29 directive allowing three states to change federal instruction that refer to proof of citizenship, Politico reported.

"The United States consents to plaintiffs’ request for entry of a preliminary injunction,” federal lawyers wrote in legal papers filed by the DOJ. “Because [Newby] did not determine that the states’ documentation requirements were necessary to verify voter eligibility, the decisions cannot pass muster under the [Administrative Procedure Act.] The executive director did not ‘consider the relevant factors...' or 'articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action.'"

Over the last several years, voting rights groups have raised objections to a slew of state-level changes to voting laws that they say disenfranchise poor, minority and elderly voters. The proof-of-citizenship documentation requirement is one of several policies that conservative Republican officials in several states proposed in attempts to crack down on illegal immigration and stifle Democratic turnout during elections, voting rights advocates have said.

President Barack Obama, in his last State of the Union address and as late as last Friday, said he would make voting rights a focus of his final year in office. The Supreme Court and a federal district court in North Carolina are hearing arguments in voting rights-related cases.

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