Kansas judge allows suit over citizenship rule to continue
Topeka A Kansas judge is allowing two voters to continue pursuing a lawsuit challenging how Secretary of State Kris Kobach is enforcing a proof-of-citizenship requirement for registering to vote.
But Shawnee County District Court Judge Franklin Theis isn't blocking Kobach from enforcing the requirement as he has for more than a year. Kobach told county election officials in June 2014 that the relative handful of people who use a federal form to register to vote are eligible to cast ballots only in presidential, U.S. Senate and congressional races, not state and local ones.
Kobach is the architect of the state's proof-of-citizenship law, which took effect in 2013 and requires people registering in Kansas for the first time or after living in another state to provide a birth certificate, passport or other documentation of U.S. citizenship. The federal registration form requires only that people affirm that they are citizens, without requiring additional papers.
Theis last week rejected Kobach's request to have the case decided in his favor before a trial, and the judge said in his 67-page order that the secretary of state is exceeding his authority by "proclaiming" a policy "which does not exist" in state law — and contradicts other statutes.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in 2013 on behalf of voters Aaron Belenky of Overland Park and Scott Jones of Lawrence, as well as Equality Kansas, the state's leading gay-rights group.
"Quite a few of the comments were encouraging," Julie Eberstein, attorney for the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "The judge recognized some of the shortcomings of Kobach's interpretation of the law."
Theis granted Kobach's request to dismiss Equality Kansas from the lawsuit, agreeing that the group had no standing to sue.
Kobach declined to respond to Theis' comments because the case is ongoing. But Kobach said the ruling is "very early" in the case.
"We're still, I think, a ways from a final decision," he said.
Kobach championed the proof-of-citizenship requirement as a way to prevent non-citizens from voting, particularly immigrants in the U.S. illegally. Critics contend the requirement suppresses turnout, with nearly 32,000 registrations suspended as of Wednesday because the prospective voters haven't documented their citizenship.
Belenky's and Jones' registrations were suspended for months in 2013 and 2014 for the same reason, but both men separately provided passports when obtaining driver's licenses. Kobach's office checked for such records last year — with the lawsuit pending — and had local election officials update their voter registration records for them.
Kobach then argued that the lawsuit should be decided in his favor because the issues causing Belenky and Jones to sue were resolved for them. But Theis compared Kobach's actions to supporters of a runner's opponent dragging the runner across the finish line to ensure his disqualification.
Theis also said Kansas law requires a "unified" ballot that includes all races, so that voters who registered with a federal form now have their ballots set aside and examined later — potentially invading their privacy. The judge said the Legislature could have specifically authorized a dual voter registration system in 2014 or earlier this year but did not.