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ACLU asks federal court to return proof-of-citizenship challenge back to state court

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] on Thursday asked a federal judge in Kansas to return a challenge [text, PDF] requiring voters to provide proof-of-citizenship to state court. The challenge focuses on Kansas's two-tiered voter registration system, which requires voters to show proof of citizenship to register to vote in local and state elections, but not federal elections. The ACLU charges that eligible voters are being divided into separate and unequal classes in violation of the Kansas Constitution's equal protection guarantees. Despite being transferred to federal court, the ACLU claims their challenge only focuses on violations of the state constitution. This, they allege in their latest petition [AP report], places the challenge more properly in state court. The US Supreme Court [official website] has ruled that laws requiring proof of citizenship for federal elections are unconstitutional, but it has preserved the states' rights to control who will vote in state and local elections. Arizona has adopted a similar two-tier voter registration system in response to the Supreme Court's ruling.

Voter ID laws [JURIST backgrounder] have become a controversial issue throughout the US. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett [official profiles] filed a complaint in August in the US District Court for the District of Kansas [official website] demanding that the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) [official website] modify federal voter registration forms to allow states to require proof of citizenship. The two-tier system in question allows voters who use the National registration form, which does not require proof of citizenship, to vote only in national elections. Voters must use the Kansas voter registration form in order to be eligible to also vote in local and state elections. There are now more than 30 US states [NCSL backgrounder] that require voters to present some form of ID at the polls, including multiple states that have passed laws requiring photo ID. In October the Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously rejected [JURIST report] a movement to overturn the Tennessee Voter Identification Act, ruling that a requirement of government-issued photo ID for voters is constitutional.

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