Judge Shuts Down Kris Kobach’s Attempt To Disenfranchise Voters In Kansas Elections

by KIRA LERNER –

kris kobach

A Kansas judge last week dealt a blow to Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s voter suppression efforts, denying his attempt to end a lawsuit challenging the state’s two-tier voter registration system that requires voters to provide proof of citizenship to vote in state races.

The lawsuit challenges the state’s dual voter registration system. Kobach crafted the system, which the judge said was beyond his authority, after he pushed a law through the legislature in 2013 to require voters to provide proof-of-citizenship documents when they register to vote for the first time or after moving to Kansas. The state denied voters who used the federal voter registration form and failed to provide their passport, birth certificate or other documentation from participating in state and local elections, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of state voters shut out from the political process.

Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU in Kansas told ThinkProgress the ruling allowing the case to move forward marks a “great day for voting rights.”

“It certainly indicates that Secretary Kobach was acting outside of his authority and indicates that our position all along has been correct, which is that he cannot separate the voter registration roll in this way,” Kubic said. “It’s simply not acceptable and it undermines the right to vote.”

The ACLU will now ask the judge to rule in its favor. If the motion is rejected, the case will move to a trial. “We’re still, I think, a ways from a final decision,” Kobach told the AP.

Kansas law currently requires voters to provide proof-of-citizenship when registering with the state forms, but federal law prevents it from applying that same requirement to the federal registration forms.

In his ruling, the Kansas judge criticized the state’s method of restricting federally-registered voters from voting in state races. Those voters fill out an entire ballot which elections officers then count only for federal candidates.

“Just because Kansas has declined to provide a separate ballot containing federal candidates only, should a voter registered by the Federal Form be subjected to the threat of prosecution based on a ballot procedure not authorized by the legislature in order to exercise his or her most fundamental franchise,” the order said.

Kobach is a staunch supporter of proof-of-citizenship requirements and has fought the federal government to require voters to prove citizenship when registering to vote with the federal form. But a federal appeals court shot down his effort and the U.S. Supreme Court in June declined to reconsider its ruling.

Kobach is currently attempting to purge more than 30,000 voters from the state rolls because they have not provided proof of citizenship. Soon after taking office, Kobach advocated for a law requiring new voters in Kansas to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register. The law took effect in 2013, and immediately 12,000 people were placed in limbo because they could not prove their citizenship, despite the fact that the threat of non-citizens casting a ballot of virtually non-existent.

A hearing is currently scheduled for early September to discuss Kobach’s proposal to purge the voters with incomplete registration forms. Under current law, those voters are permitted to provide proof of citizenship up until Election Day, but Kobach argues that eliminating them from the rolls would save election officials’ time and money. Four lawmakers on a joint committee have expressed their disapproval, but they do not have the power to stop the state agency from implementing the rule.

Kubic said the ACLU will also testify in that hearing and argue that the voter purge, just one of Kobach’s numerous efforts to restrict voters, is unlawful.

“All of the many, many, many steps that Secretary Kobach has taken over the last several years all add up to voter suppression and undermining the right to vote.”

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress