ACLU sues Kansas over citizenship documents for voting

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. AP

People trying to register to vote at Kansas motor vehicle offices are being forced to provide documentary proof of citizenship in violation of federal law, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., is based on a provision in the National Voter Registration Act that requires states to provide voter registration in conjunction with driver’s license applications at state division of motor vehicle offices.

The suit contends that law prohibits states from requiring additional information when people register to vote in conjunction with getting their driver’s licenses.

But Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has championed laws that require documents such as a birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers as a way to prevent noncitizens from voting, said the ACLU was misreading the law.

Kobach said the law requires only that states accept voter registration applications at the Department of Motor Vehicles — not that those applications have to be confirmed at that time.

“The state has every right to verify that the person is eligible to vote before completing the person’s registration,” said Kobach.

Kansas has been at the forefront of efforts for more stringent registration laws ranging from proof of citizenship to requiring certain types of ID, and the state has been embroiled in several legal fights over the issues.

Critics say incidents of noncitizens registering to vote are extremely rare, and argue such Republican-backed laws hurt voter registration efforts and disenfranchise voters who tend to vote for Democrats. The groups most likely to not readily have the documentation, the critics note, include college students and lower-income residents.

“These shameful actions have made Kansas an epicenter of voter suppression,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

The registration act, commonly known as the “Motor-Voter Law,” is a federal law that aims to increase voter participation. In addition to requiring that registration be offered at the Division of Motor Vehicle offices, it also provides mechanisms such as an online registration form people can print out and mail and voter registration at social service agencies, Ho said.