Government & Politics

Kansas judge says thousands of motor voters can cast ballots

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach

Come election day, thousands of people Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said shouldn’t be able to vote in Kansas will likely be able to cast a full ballot.

A new order from Shawnee County judge Larry Hendricks says that the ballots of roughly 17,500 voters who failed to show proof of citizenship when they registered to vote are expected to be counted in the general election. The temporary injunction he issued in the summer has now been extended — “including up through the general election” — until Hendricks makes a final ruling in the case, according to the order.

Because of a 2013 state law that Kobach has championed, new Kansas voters have to show proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate or a U.S. passport, to have their vote counted. An earlier ruling allowed the voters to cast ballots only in federal elections.

In late July, Hendricks issued a temporary order that allowed the votes of roughly 17,500 Kansans to be counted in the August primary for all elections. Many of those voters registered at state motor vehicle offices.

The American Civil Liberties Union has fought Kobach in court in several voting rights case, including the one in which Hendricks recently issued the order.

Kobach said earlier this month that only 73 out of those thousands voted in the August primary. An ACLU attorney said at the time that Kobach’s restrictions had a chilling effect that also confused voters.

During his defense in front of Hendricks last week, Kobach argued that two of the plaintiffs in the case, Marvin and JoAnn Brown of Johnson County, didn’t prove they were citizens. Marvin Brown is an Army veteran.

Kobach then told the judge that the pair had failed to show that they didn’t have the documents that would allow them to vote under Kansas law.

Hendricks said more time would be needed to make a final ruling.

Sophia Lin Lakin, an ACLU attorney who represented the voters in court, said she was pleased that Hendricks had included in the order that Kobach must have local election officials send out notices to the voters impacted by the ruling. That notice would tell those Kansans that they are deemed registered and qualified to vote a full ballot on Nov. 8.

“That goes a long way to fixing the situation,” Lin Lakin said.

With less than a month left until early voting starts, Lin Lakin said she expects the order to last through election day.

“It’s hard to say how quickly things will go, but given how close we are and given that the judge has asked for the notice to be sent out to voters in a timely fashion, my sense is that this will be in place for November,” she said.

Kobach is scheduled to appear in court again at the end of the week in a separate case. U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson has issued an order telling Kobach to appear in court Friday and explain why he should not be found in contempt for failing to register “motor voters” who didn’t provide proof of citizenship.

Lawyers for the ACLU had earlier asked the court to hold Kobach in contempt for not adding those voters to the official voter rolls.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw