Kansas group, voters sue Kobach over registration rules

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was sued Thursday by people seeking to block him from imposing a dual voter registration policy as part of the state's proof-of-citizenship law.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit Thursday in Shawnee County District Court on behalf of Equality Kansas, the state's leading gay rights group, and prospective voters Aaron Belenky of Overland Park and Scott Jones of Lawrence. It seeks to prevent Kobach from creating a registration system in which some voters are eligible to cast ballots only in presidential, U.S. Senate and congressional races, while others can cast ballots in all races.

The different treatment would be based on whether the prospective voter uses a national registration form — which requires only that someone sign a statement that he or she is a U.S. citizen — without complying with the state's additional requirement to present a birth certificate, passport or other citizenship papers. People using a Kansas form could vote in all races, but only if they complied with the proof-of-citizenship requirement, which took effect in January.

Kobach said he hadn't seen the lawsuit, but would have his office review it and comment after that.

Previously, he has said Kansas will be forced to adopt a dual registration system if the federal government does not modify the national registration form to help Kansas enforce its proof-of-citizenship rule. But the lawsuit said Kobach already imposed the new policy on his own, violating voters' right to equal legal protection under the state constitution.

Arizona also has a proof-of-citizenship requirement, and officials there have created a dual registration system. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett has joined Kobach in an effort to force a change in the national registration form.

Meanwhile, the registrations of nearly 17,700 prospective Kansas voters were on hold as of this week because they had yet to comply with the proof-of-citizenship rule.

Belenky was unable to vote in a local election in Overland Park in October, according to the lawsuit, though he filled out the national registration form in early August. Equality Kansas argues that its ability to conduct voter registration drives is hindered.

The lawsuit alleges that Kobach, a Republican who championed the proof-of-citizenship law as an anti-fraud measure, has improperly imposed "an entirely new" registration system unilaterally and likened the policy to one enacted in Mississippi in 1890 to keep blacks from voting.

"Dual registration systems for voting erect unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles to full participation, and have a long and ignominious history in the United States," the lawsuit said.