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Judge rules Kobach must register 18,000 suspended Kansas voters

A judge has ordered Secretary of State Kris Kobach to register 18,000 suspended Kansas voters.
A judge has ordered Secretary of State Kris Kobach to register 18,000 suspended Kansas voters. File photo

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to register about 18,000 rejected voters who filed applications at Department of Motor Vehicles offices but didn’t provide the proof of citizenship Kansas law requires.

Kobach said he’ll file an emergency appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Judge Julie Robinson ruled the Kansas proof-of-citizenship law conflicts with the federal motor-voter act, which was passed by Congress to make it easier to vote by requiring motor-vehicle offices to also offer voting registration.

Robinson approved a preliminary injunction requiring Kobach to register prospective voters who were rejected since 2013 because they didn’t file documents proving their citizenship. They could vote in federal elections – U.S. House, Senate and the presidency – in this election cycle.

The case centers on a Kansas law Kobach authored that requires applicants to provide documented citizenship proof. For most voters, that means either a passport or birth certificate – along with proof of marriage- and divorce-related name changes for women.

The requirement is separate from and requires a higher level of proof than the state’s photo-identification law, which requires voters to produce a driver’s license or other government-issued ID to cast a ballot at the polls.

The injunction will go into effect at midnight on May 31, giving Kobach about two weeks to file his appeal.

He said he expects to win because Robinson’s ruling would create a “magic path” to registration at the DMV, while those who sought to register by mail or at their election office would still be denied.

Kobach said the injunction would also cause administrative chaos in preparing for the August and November elections. While affected voters can be identified in about an hour of computer time, county election offices would have to change all 18,000 registrations individually and send out notices, he said.

Robinson was unsympathetic to that argument.

“Although the Court is cognizant that the injunction will cause some administrative burden to the State, it is a burden that is outweighed by the risk of thousands of otherwise eligible voters being disenfranchised in upcoming federal elections,” the judge wrote.

Robinson noted the state identified only three illegal voters and 14 illegal registrants from 1995 to 2013.

“On this record, the Court cannot find that the State’s interest in preventing noncitizens from voting in Kansas outweighs the risk of disenfranchising thousands of qualified voters,” Robinson wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the League of Women Voters of Kansas and individual plaintiffs in the case, issued a statement on the ruling Tuesday night.

Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said of the judge’s order: “This ruling lifts the barrier that the state illegally imposed on Kansans who were trying to register to vote. It means thousands of people who could have been sidelined during the upcoming primary and general election will be able to participate.”

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