In court after court, judges are being asked to protect the voting rights of thousands of Kansas citizens this year.
And in case after case, the courts are coming down on the side of letting those Kansans participate in elections — despite the misguided efforts of Secretary of State Kris Kobach to keep them out of voting booths.
Just this week, a U.S. Court of Appeals panel upheld an earlier ruling that Kansas couldn’t prevent citizens from voting because they didn’t provide proof of citizenship when registering. The most compelling reason offered by the court was that Kobach and other supporters of this tactic had provided far too little proof that any fraudulent voting was going on.
That legal case comes on top of two others swirling around Kobach, including a potentially chilling one for his political career, which involves a contempt of court accusation.
▪ Shawnee County Judge Larry Hendricks issued an order that said about 17,500 Kansans have the right to vote in elections “including up through the general election” on Nov. 8.
These are people who did not show proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate) when they registered to vote, usually at state motor vehicle offices. That is permitted under federal law, which requires them to swear under penalty of perjury that they are citizens.
But Kobach has championed a state law that requires people to show proof of citizenship anytime they register to vote.
Earlier this year, Hendricks issued an injunction protecting the rights of those 17,500 people. The recent order extends that injunction; he still has to make a final ruling. Notably, Hendricks also ordered that Kobach make sure people will know they have the right to vote. The secretary of state is supposed to make sure local election officials across the state send out notices to affected voters.
The American Civil Liberties Union has fought on the side of Kansas voters, properly arguing they had followed federal rules and should be allowed to participate in American democracy to the fullest extent.
Recently, when Kobach contended only 73 of those people voted in the August primary, the ACLU astutely noted that the 17,500 had not been told until close to election time their votes would count. Kobach had muddied the waters when it came to their eligibility, went the argument.
It shouldn’t be allowed to happen again. It won’t if Hendricks’ order remains in effect through the Nov. 8 election.
▪ U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson has ordered Kobach to appear in her courtroom on Friday morning in Kansas City, Kan., to prove he should not be held in contempt of court.
This is not a development to be taken lightly. When elected officials are hauled into court to face contempt charges, it’s an indication that they are not doing their jobs in the public’s best interests.
In this case, Robinson earlier in 2016 ruled that Kobach should put people who registered to vote at motor vehicles offices — but didn’t provide proof of citizenship — onto the state’s voting rolls.
Kobach complied with part of Robinson’s order back in May, allowing the voters to cast provisional ballots in the August primary. But he reportedly has not allowed their names onto the state’s voter registration list.
Again, as the ACLU and others correctly point out, this is leading to confusion for voters about their rights to participate in future elections, including on Nov. 8.
Kobach’s response is that he is “in full compliance” with Robinson’s order.
On Friday, the secretary of state will have his chance to prove that claim. But given the legal losses Kobach has accumulated on this issue over the last year, he should not be confident of walking out of the courtroom a winner.
Robinson, Hendricks and other judges must continue looking out for the full voting rights of all Kansans as long as Kobach isn’t doing that.