A federal appeals court breathed new life this week into the long-running fight over voter registration in Kansas and Arizona.
At stake is whether or not the U.S. Election Assistance Commission will have to add state-specific instructions about Kansas and Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship requirements to the federal voter registration form. A federal district judge ruled in favor of the states in March, saying that the commission had unlawfully denied the states’ requests. On Thursday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary stay to the lower judge’s ruling, which was sought by the commission and a collection of voting rights groups.
According to the Associated Press, circuit Judges Carlos Lucero and Jerome Holmes granted the emergency stay one day after the lower judge, U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren, rejected a request to suspend his ruling pending the commission’s appeal. The 10th circuit judges gave Kansas and Arizona until Tuesday to respond to the commission’s request that the ruling be stayed during the appeal.
Arizona Advocacy Network, one of the voting rights groups involved in the case, hailed the ruling. Sam Wercinski, the group’s executive director, put out a statement calling Thurday “a good day for Arizona voters and civic engagement groups helping citizens to register and vote.”
But Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told TPM on Friday that of the two rulings this week, he considered Melgren’s denial of the commission’s request to be the more significant.
“The temporary emergency stay is not of great consequence,” Kobach said, describing the matter as “procedural.”
Still, Kobach said, if the appeals court does grant a stay to Melgren’s order while the case is still pending, that could lead to the return of a scenario envisioned last year: two-tier voting.
Both Kansas and Arizona have passed proof-of-citizenship laws, and require voters registering via state forms to show that documentation. If the Election Assistance Commission does not add the state-specific proof-of-citizenship language for each state, officials in both states have previously made plans where citizens who do not show documentation when using the federal form would then be eligible to vote only in federal elections, not state or local ones.
Kobach said he expected the 10th circuit court to decide “relatively” quickly on whether or not the stay would remain in place during the appeal.