Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s relentless campaign to make it harder to register to vote goes on trial Tuesday in federal court.
The nation will be watching the case play out in Kansas City, Kan. If Kobach prevails, many states across the country are likely to erect new barriers to registration, making it harder for the voters’ will to be known in races from the city council to the White House.
If Kobach loses — which seems more likely than not — the right to register and vote without major obstruction will have at least some protection, as it should have.
At issue is a state law requiring Kansans to provide “documentary proof of citizenship,” such as a birth certificate or adoption decree, when registering to vote at the driver’s license office.
Kobach and other allies said producing birth certificates and passports for registration would be easy for eligible citizens but would be hard for non-citizens, keeping them from the ballot box.
And Kansas has a right, they said, to impose whatever additional requirements they want on the federal motor voter law.
Several Kansans sued. They said the motor voter law already requires registrants to sign a document, under the penalty of perjury, confirming that they are citizens. That should be enough.
Tuesday’s trial, before federal judge Julie Robinson, will decide who’s right.
We already have some clues. In May 2016, Robinson temporarily blocked further implementation of the Kansas law, which she said was “burdensome, confusing and inconsistently enforced.”
A federal court of appeals upheld her decision. It said a state would have to show a “substantial number of non-citizens have successfully registered” before it could impose a documents requirement.
On Tuesday, Kobach’s team is expected to claim thousands of ineligible citizens have indeed tried to register. He’ll call on a handful of self-proclaimed “experts” who will use surveys and other snake oil to “extrapolate” the number of illegal registrants in Kansas.
Don’t buy it, your honor. Kobach’s documentary proof of citizenship law has always been a distraction, a solution in search of a non-existent problem.
By one estimate, Kansas could show only 25 non-citizens who had illegally registered under the motor voter law before 2013. Kansas had more than 1.7 million registered voters at the time.
At the start of 2017, on the other hand, more than 22,000 voter registration applications in Kansas had been cancelled or deemed incomplete because of the failure to provide documents to the state.
That number tells us what’s really going on: Kobach and his supporters want to suppress the vote.
We’re confident Judge Robinson, and appeals courts beyond, will see this effort for what it is. We’re also confident Kansans want free, fair, open elections, a process her decision could help guarantee.