A lawsuit was filed Friday afternoon challenging the surprise move by the head of a federal elections agency to require proof of citizenship to register to vote in three states. The suit alleges that Brian Newby — the executive director of the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) who unilaterally approved the change to the federal form — acted outside of his authority and departed from several commission protocols in making the change.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the League of Women Voters, Project Vote, the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and others. It is asking for preliminary injunction that voids the recently-added proof-of-citizenship requirement on the federal registration forms for Kansas, Georgia and Alabama.
“The timing of the Executive Director’s decision jeopardizes the integrity of several upcoming federal elections,” the suit says, noting Kansas’ caucus and Alabama’s primary next month.
Newby’s decision to change the federal voting registration forms in Kansas, Georgia and Alabama to require proof of citizenship late last month was seen as an unexpected reversal from previous decisions by the EAC that rejected requests for the change.
The suit accuses Newby of breaking at least five different commission policies in pushing the change, including acting out of the scope of his authority and posting the change without a public comments period.
Adding scrutiny to his move is that Newby previously worked under Kris Kobach — Kansas’ Secretary of State and a champion of voter restriction laws — as a local elections official in the state’s largest county. Kobach’s latest request to the EAC to change the federal form came shortly after Newby was appointed.
“Just two weeks after Newby was appointed as the EAC’s Executive Director, Kansas submitted its fifth request to amend the Federal Form,” the suit says. “Tellingly, while Mr. Newby failed to provide formal public notice and an opportunity to comment before changing the EAC’s policy, on information and belief, he entertained several ex parte communications from the Kansas Secretary of State, along with similar communications with officials from
Alabama and Georgia, before he approved the States’ requests.”
Civil rights activists say proof-of-citizenship requirements disenfranchise lower income people, minorities, the elderly, and other who may not have access to the documents necessary to register to vote under the mandate.
For years, the states that have passed laws requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote have been unable to fully implement the requirement because residents could still register using the federal form, which previously required a sworn affidavit that one is a citizen.
States wishing to require voter proof of citizenship have also lost a number of court battles seeking to add the requirement to the federal form.
Read Friday’s lawsuit below: