Government & Politics

Kobach, ACLU reach agreement on voting case, avoid contempt hearing

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s contempt of court hearing Friday was canceled after he reached a deal with the ACLU in the voting case.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s contempt of court hearing Friday was canceled after he reached a deal with the ACLU in the voting case. File photo

Kris Kobach and the American Civil Liberties Union have reached an agreement that has canceled a contempt hearing scheduled for the Kansas secretary of state.

Attorneys in the Fish v. Kobach case agreed to several conditions, including a provision that thousands of voters whose status has been in question will be notified that they are registered and qualified to vote in the general election. Early voting starts in late October, followed by Election Day on Nov. 8.

The agreements were included in a joint status report filed in court and released Thursday morning. A federal judge issued an order later that afternoon that canceled Friday’s contempt hearing.

The agreement between the attorneys says that Kobach will direct local election officials to send notices to the voters by Oct. 12. They will also be able to view their voter status online by that same date.

The voters will be able to cast a regular ballot rather than a provisional ballot, according to the agreement.

The voters in question number around 19,500. Many of them didn’t prove they were citizens when they registered to vote at motor vehicle offices, likely using a federal form. And while that doesn’t follow state law, it does meet the standard set forth by the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. It lets people register to vote when they apply for a driver’s license.

Kansas law requires new voters to show a document like a U.S. passport or birth certificate to have their ballots counted.

Kobach has been arguing in court throughout the summer over whether those voters should have their ballots counted. He contends that since they failed to prove they were citizens, their votes should be thrown out.

Judges in Kansas have tended to disagree.

An order earlier this year by a federal judge forced Kobach to let those voters cast ballots in federal races. And an order this month by a Shawnee County judge forced Kobach to count the voters’ full ballots, including their choices in state and local races, for the general election.

Attorneys opposing the proof-of-citizenship requirement had asked U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson to hold Kobach in contempt of court for not following the earlier order. They also asked that Kobach add the voters to the state’s poll books and notify the voters that they can cast full ballots.

Robinson then scheduled Friday’s contempt hearing, before canceling it in light of the attorneys’ new agreement.

If the Kansas secretary of state had been held in contempt, possible punishments could have included fines and even the unlikely but possible threat of jail time.

Kobach said in a statement that he was pleased an interim agreement has been reached.

“The ACLU’s argument was weak at best,” Kobach said. “However, at this point the preparations for the November 8, 2016, general election must proceed with rules established to ensure the efficient administration of the election.”

Orion Danjuma, an ACLU attorney opposing Kobach in the case, said the secretary of state now knows that he “can’t continue to play games by creatively defining who’s complying with the law.”

“The concessions that Mr. Kobach has made are a huge victory for Kansas voters,” Danjuma said. “He’s now agreed to do what we’ve been demanding all along, and that’s to treat these legitimate voters like any other voters.”

Kobach has continued to stand by the law, despite the recent orders that threw out the requirement in the August primary election and November’s general election.

The law was passed by the Kansas Legislature in 2011, and the proof-of-citizenship portion went into effect in 2013.

House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey said he still supports Kobach’s efforts and the proof-of-citizenship law despite the ongoing legal battles.

“Only citizens should vote,” Vickrey said. “Kris is doing what he can to make sure that citizens are voting. We want to accommodate any citizen to vote as easily as possible, but if they’re not a citizen, then until you meet those requirements, you shouldn’t be voting.”

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw