WASHINGTON, June 30 (UPI) -- A federal judge has declined a request by voting rights groups to stop a federal official from requiring residents in three states provide proof of citizenship on a national voter registration form.
The lawsuit, filed by the League of Women Voters and other groups names Brian Newby, the executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, who earlier this year approved a request by three states, Alabama, Georgia and Newby's home state Kansas, to alter instructions on the national voter registration form to instruct would-be voters in those three states to abide by state laws requiring proof of citizenship as a requirement for registering to vote.
Voting rights groups argued citizenship requirements provide a roadblock for some voters who may not have the proper documentation, but District Court Judge Richard Leon disagreed, saying Newby was only following precedent by altering the federal form to conform with state law.
The U.S. Constitution permits states to regulate election rules and Newby, who was once honored by the League of Women Voters when he was an elections official in Kansas, said he was only doing what past officials in his position have done by altering the form to conform with state laws.
The bipartisan U.S. Election Assistance Commission is an obscure government agency created as part of the Help America Vote Act, which Congress passed in the wake of the 2000 presidential election. Among its jobs is to create and make available a uniform federal voter registration form for all 50 states.
The form includes stipulations for some states based on state-by-state laws, but commissioners had previously voted not to include proof of citizenship. Instead, the first question on the form asks the individual to swear under penalty of perjury that they are a U.S. citizen.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was Newby's former boss when Newby was the Johnson County, Kansas, elections commissioner, requested the form be changed for three states with proof-of-citizenship laws.
The change does not affect voters in the 47 other states.
The Kansas City Star reports Kobach, a Republican, gave Newby a positive endorsement to at least one commissioner on the bipartisan EAC panel prior to his being hired.
Kobach, a leading proponent nationally of altering voting laws to prohibit illegal immigrants from gaining the right to vote, denied the accusation he was calling in a favor from Newby after helping him get the job.
"We would've made the request regardless of who got the [executive director's] job," Kobach told the Star.
Newby worked under both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state in Kansas and was recognized as an innovator in using technology to improve voter enrollment and poll worker training. He maintained a blog, Election Diary, which offered tips for how personal electronic devices such as Google Glass, cellphone cameras and selfie sticks might pose problems for poll workers. He also created a smartphone app to help direct Johnson County voters to their proper polling place and pioneered the use of iPads to photograph citizenship papers for naturalized citizens, enabling them to register to vote at their naturalization ceremony.
In 2014, the year before he took the federal elections job, the League of Women Voters of Johnson County, the local affiliate of the national organization now suing Newby, gave him its Making Democracy Work award.
Leon, the District of Columbia District Court judge, denied the plaintiffs' requests to order a stay and remove changes to the national registration form. Leon said those were issues that needed to be decided at trial, not in a preliminary injunction.
No trial date has been set.
Kobach noted the national registration form only accounts for about 1 percent of voter enrollments in Kansas annually because the vast majority of people instead use the state's own form, which already includes the proof-of-citizenship requirement.