TOPEKA, Kan. -- Arizona and Kansas are asking a court to force a federal agency to quickly modify voter registration forms so the states can fully enforce proof-of-citizenship laws for new voters ahead of next year's elections.
The two states filed a request Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Kansas for a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit they filed against the federal Election Assistance Commission and its top staff member. They asked for a hearing on or shortly after Nov. 12.
The states and their top elections officials filed the lawsuit in August in hopes of forcing the commission to modify the national mail-in voter registration form to include instructions for Kansas and Arizona residents to comply with their states' laws requiring prospective voters to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship. The request filed Wednesday asks the court to impose the change while the lawsuit is being heard.
Kansas and Arizona officials said that without an immediate court order, the states will be forced to operate separate election systems - one for people who meet the proof-of-citizenship requirement and can vote for any office and another for people who use the federal form and therefore can vote only in presidential, U.S. Senate and congressional races.
The two states argued in court documents that they would face "incalculable" extra costs while "being forced to register unqualified non-citizens."
"Quite honestly, it would be a mess," said Matt Roberts, spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, a Republican. "It's not something we want at all."
The U.S. Department of Justice, which is defending the federal commission, said it is reviewing the states' request to the court.
Arizona's law, enacted by voter initiative in 2004, requires election officials to reject any voter registration application that's not accompanied by "satisfactory evidence" of U.S. citizenship, including a birth certificate or passport. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona couldn't reject federal forms without approval from a court or federal officials.
Roberts said that fewer than 2,000 people have used federal forms to register to vote in Arizona and failed to provide proof of their citizenship. The state has about 3.1 million registered voters.
In Kansas, the proof-of-citizenship requirement took effect in January. If people don't provide a birth certificate, passport or other citizenship papers, their applications are accepted, but their registrations remain on hold. As of this week, more than 18,100 prospective voters' registrations were on hold, while the state has about 1.7 million registered voters.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, also a Republican, is the architect of his state's law and has said it blocks illegal voting by non-citizens, including immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
Tabitha Lehman, the Sedgwick County, Kan., election commissioner and a Kobach appointee, said in a sworn statement one prospective voter whose registration was on hold confirmed not being a U.S. citizen when contacted by the office. Lehman did not name the voter, she said, to protect that person's privacy.
In one document Wednesday, the two states said: "Once such persons are registered to vote, there is no meaningful procedure by which such unlawfully registered non-citizens can be detected and removed from the voter registration rolls."
Critics of the Kansas law contend that it will suppress voter turnout. The American Civil Liberties Union has notified Kobach that it intends to file its own federal lawsuit unless the state stops enforcing the proof-of-citizenship requirement.