AÂ U.S. District CourtÂ judge ruled Wednesday that Arizona and Kansas can require anyone registering to vote to prove their citizenship and the federalÂ Election Assistance CommissionÂ cannot block them.
The ruling is a boost for statesâ€™ rights and marks a setback for President Obama and other liberals who fought stiffer voter ID checks with an argument that they reduce voter turnout.
â€œThis is a huge victory for me, personally, for the states of Kansas and Arizona, and for the whole cause of statesâ€™ rights,â€ said Kansas Secretary of StateÂ Kris W. Kobach, who led the challenge. â€œWeâ€™ve seen so many defeats recently in areas where the federalÂ governmentÂ has been encroaching on statesâ€™ authorities, and this time the good guys won.â€
In his ruling, JudgeÂ Eric F. MelgrenÂ said theÂ EAC, whichÂ CongressÂ created after the 2000 Florida voting fiasco, must accede to statesâ€™ requests for people to provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote.
â€œTheÂ EACâ€™s nondiscretionary duty is to perform the ministerial function of updating the instructions to reflect each stateâ€™s laws,â€ JudgeÂ MelgrenÂ ruled in a decision out of Kansas. â€œTheÂ courtÂ orders theÂ EACÂ to add the language requested by Arizona and Kansas to the state-specific instructions of the federal mail voter registration form immediately.â€
The ruling comes at a time when both Democrats and Republicans are paying increasing interest to the rules governing campaigns and voting. With the country ideologically split, each side is looking for an advantage at the ballot box.
Democrats say identification checks couldÂ preventÂ some eligible voters from casting ballots. Republicans generally argue for stiffer checks to prevent fraud.
Kansas and Arizona enacted requirements that voters prove their citizenship when they register. State registration forms were changed to add the requirement.
But the federal government, which also distributes voter registration forms in states under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, or motor-voter law, refused to add the requirement.
Arizona then said it would refuse to process federal forms and ended up in court. Last year, in a case known as Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, theÂ Supreme CourtÂ ruled that Arizona couldnâ€™t reject the federal forms.
â€œOn one hand, the ITCA decision acknowledges the broad scope ofÂ Congressâ€˜ power under the Elections Clause, which includes the authority of the NVRA to preempt state law regarding voter registration,â€ the judge wrote. â€œBut the ITCA opinion also emphasizes the statesâ€™ exclusive constitutional authority to set voter qualifications â€” whichÂ CongressÂ may not preempt â€” and appears to tie that authority with the power of the states to enforce their qualifications.â€
Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett said the ruling willÂ helpÂ clean up voter rolls. About 2,000 people have submitted federal forms in the state but havenâ€™t proved their citizenship, he said.
â€œWith this filing and with this ruling, we have accomplished what we felt was the desire of Arizona voters all along,â€ Mr. Bennett said.
Wednesdayâ€™s ruling was focused on election law, but it comes in the middle of a thorny national debate about U.S. immigration laws. A number of states have pushed for stricter enforcement from the Obama administration and the right to help enforce federal immigration principles.
Mr. KobachÂ has been at the forefront of those efforts.