Feds Reject Proof of Citizenship Requirement for Voter Registration

Since the election (and reelection) of President Barack Obama, many GOP-controlled states have ramped up efforts to limit access to the polls by using various forms of voter suppression.  With help from the Supreme Court, some are adding to their bag of tricks by making it significantly harder to even register to vote. Under the guise of protecting the voting process, some states are requiring residents to show proof-of-citizenship to exercise their rights.

That’s right. You have to show your papers when you register and when you vote.

While the United States does have a history of non-citizens voting, as well as some local jurisdictions allowing legally residing non-citizens to vote in municipal elections, generally voting has been understood to be a right of citizens. While on its face the idea of requiring a proof of citizenship doesn’t appear difficult, reports have shown that it can be especially challenging for low-income and senior citizens to obtain the appropriate documentation. Naturalized citizens would also have additional hurdles to overcome.

Arizona enacted a proof-of-citizenship registration requirement in 2004, which required election officials to reject any voter registration form that did not have satisfactory evidence of citizenship. “Satisfactory” evidence included a birth certificate or passport, among other things. In June of last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the state was free to require documentation from those who signed up with their state form, but they could not reject any registration via the federal registration form without approval of court or federal officials.

All states usually provide their own voter registration forms. As part of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the “Motor Voter Act,” a national voter registration form was developed that allowed people to register by mail. The “motor voter” nickname is because people can register to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles after they’ve been granted a drivers license or ID. The federal form is the one most often used in voter registration drives, as well as at any office where public services are available.  Registration requires a copy of a valid photo ID or other document (i.e. utility bill) that shows the registrant’s address. It includes the specific requirements for each state (i.e. the deadline for registration or address for mailing), which comply with the uniformed requirements of the 1993 law.  Registrants must also sign a statement under penalty of perjury that they are a U.S. citizen.

Forty-seven states accept registrations via this federal form.

Last year, Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship law went into effect. The state, which had enacted a voter ID law the previous year, now requires first time registrants to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of citizenship. As of January 2014, more than 20,000 registrations are on hold due to lack of documentation.

The problems in both states have to do with the federal voter registration form. Now Kansas and Arizona want it changed.

In August 2013, Kansas and Arizona sued the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) to force them to change the state specific requirements for their states to include the requirement of proof of citizenship. The EAC was created with the Help America Vote Act of 2002, tasking them with overseeing that states complied with federal efforts to increase voter participation. The law was passed during the first term of President George W. Bush.

The EAC denied the request. In its ruling this month, the commission said that proof-of-citizenship requirements would likely prevent eligible citizens from being able to register. They included the already established issues Kansas is having with the current backlog of registration forms as evidence. Furthermore, they said the additional documentation undermines the purpose of the Help America Vote Act by impeding and ultimately decreasing participation. It also pointed out that the small number of alleged voter registration fraud incidences that Arizona used as evidence (10 out of more than 2 million registrations) showed that the proof-of-citizenship requirement did not justify the risk of disenfranchising eligible voters.

The commission feels that the fact that registrants have to sign the form stating they are a U.S. citizen is enough. The Supreme Court confirmed this in the ruling in the Arizona case last June, stating that the federal form had to be accepted as sufficient. The commission says the states have other ways to verify citizenship at their disposal. For example, when they apply for the government-issued ID the states require for voting at the polls.

The attorney generals of both states have said they will continue to press their cases in court.

Until then they are considering other options. Kansas plans on using the state’s birth records scan to help with the backlog of voter registration forms lacking documentation. This of course will not help those who recently moved to the state, or women who have had a name change. Even by their own estimation, this will only reduce the backlog by about 7,700.

Arizona has decided to create a two tiered voting system. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horn feels that both the Supreme Court and EAC rulings only apply to voting in federal elections and not state or local elections. Therefore, those who provide the proof of citizenship will be allowed to vote in all elections. Those who use the federal forms and do not provide the required proof-of-citizenship will only be allowed to vote in federal elections. Meaning, they will not be able to vote for any office from the governor on down, as well as any state or local initiatives.

Initiatives like those requiring proof-of-citizenship to vote.

A hearing for Kansas’ and Arizona’s federal lawsuit has been scheduled for February 11, 2014. In the meantime, the ACLU has put Kansas on notice that it plans to file its own lawsuit against the state if they insist on requiring proof-of-citizenship for new voter registrations.


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Eileen G.
Eileen G3 years ago

Wow, this is way too difficult for me to comprehend. In the UK we have to make sure we are on the voting register by signing the form for that year, returning it, and that is all.

If we move, we have to re-register.

Stephen Brian
Stephen Brian3 years ago

Here are the voter-identification rules for Canada, where generally nobody accuses anybody of voter-suppression or fraud.


What is called voter-suppression in the U.S. is accepted in Canada. We allow people to vouch for others, but if there were really such a problem getting ID for poor people, then communities of poor people would be stuck with insufficient vouchers for the vouchees.

The requirements are actually stricter than they look: After registering, I'm pretty sure they actually check to ensure that you really are a citizen eligible to vote. Honestly, in an age of computers and the internet, in the .S. where everybody knows well in advance when the next election will be (no snap-elections called 6 weeks before voting-day), none of this should be an issue. ID should be available for everybody if ordered months (or even just weeks) in advance, and everybody should be required to use it to register and vote.

Deborah W.
Deborah W3 years ago

IF you're passionate about the right to vote, and given adequate time to get necessary documentation in order, the back-and-forth interjection of other non-essentials should fade and disappear.

Those in other countries fight (and often die) for this privilege while we at home whine about inconvenience and variances. Should be one set of rules for all, with adequate time to meet requirements. Too simple in our complicated world ... or too complicated for our simple world?

Heather O.
Heather O3 years ago

I wanted to refuse to show my ID the last time I voted...but I wanted to vote more than I wanted to make a scene.


David Youmans
David Youmans3 years ago

Paul B...

You do realize that you have to re-register every time you move, right? You also are aware of the fact that your statistics are lies, produced by the right wing as an excuse to pass laws that make it harder for people likely to vote against the Republican party. One of the biggest problems we are suffering from in this country is the blatant dishonesty of the whole "mainstream media propaganda machine". All of the media sources in this country are owned by the big corporations, which means that they aren't really providing the news these days, but just the propaganda that their owners want them to spew.

This is nothing more than a ploy to prevent people that should be able to vote, from doing so, because they don't want the people to really have a say in this nation...

Dale Leach
Dale Leach3 years ago

There should be a proof of citizenship when registering to vote and then show photo ID at time of casting vote(s) It seems as this act just opened the door to illegal votes from illegal aliens, which would compromise the whole way of life for all americans and infringing on our constitutional rights.

j A3 years ago

Kudos to the EAC for seeing the issue as it is

Joan E.
Joan E3 years ago

I never heard anyone use the term Uncle Sugar before. I think it's a disgusting way to characterize the US government people around the world depend on for needed services, for which they willingly contribute. If a political party in this country does not understand this social contract we have made, they have no business being in government. We didn't build the United States of America so Republicans could break it down, purposely snarl the traffic and keep the hungry starving and privatize our schools and other institutions so they can get rich off it. They think the government is their Uncle Sugar. We think it's the people of the United States helping each other, especially in time of need.

Joan E.
Joan E3 years ago

Give the vote suppressors an inch and they'll steal a whole democracy.