Government & Politics

Judge rules Kris Kobach can’t operate two-tier election system in Kansas

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach championed a 2013 state law that requires those registering to vote to provide proof-of-citizenship documents. But the federal registration form only requires a sworn statement from the voter as proof of citizenship. So Kobach decided that for those who use the federal form to register rather than the state form, only their votes for national offices — for president and members of Congress — would be counted.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach championed a 2013 state law that requires those registering to vote to provide proof-of-citizenship documents. But the federal registration form only requires a sworn statement from the voter as proof of citizenship. So Kobach decided that for those who use the federal form to register rather than the state form, only their votes for national offices — for president and members of Congress — would be counted.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach can’t operate a two-tier voting system that allows him to count only votes cast in federal races for voters who registered using a federal form, a state judge ruled Friday.

“There’s just no authority for the way the secretary of state has handled federal form registrants,” said Doug Bonney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, which represented plaintiffs in the case.

Kobach championed a 2013 Kansas law that requires those registering to vote to provide proof-of-citizenship documents, typically a birth certificate or passport.

But the federal registration form only requires a sworn statement from the voter as proof of citizenship.

So Kobach decided that for those who use the federal form to register rather than the state form, only their votes for national offices — for president and members of Congress — would be counted. Votes in other races wouldn’t be counted.

“The judge is saying there’s no provision in the Kansas statute that says you can disregard votes in state and local elections that are also on a ballot,” Bonney said.

If it stands, the ruling in the case, Belenky v. Kobach, would seem to allow voters to work around the state’s proof-of-citizenship law by using the federal form.

But Kobach said Friday he will file a motion to reconsider or appeal the ruling.

“The case is far from over,” Kobach said. “We don’t anticipate this decision is going to be the final word on the subject.”

In his ruling, Shawnee County District Judge Franklin Theis said that in Kansas, “a person is either registered to vote or he or she is not. By current Kansas law, registration, hence the right to vote, is not tied to the method of registration.”

Kobach’s stance “ignores the fact that no Kansas law sanctions a challenge to a ballot by a ‘federal form’ registrant merely because they are a ‘federal form’ registrant,” the ruling states.

Kobach and the state elections director have no legal authority “to compromise or limit” federal form registrants, Theis said.

“We think this raises very serious questions about the way voters are being treated in Kansas right now,” Bonney said. “We certainly hope the secretary of state will take Judge Theis’ findings seriously.”

Kobach has argued that proof-of-citizenship documents are needed to keep non-citizens from voting. But critics say there is no real risk of citizen impersonation and that a person’s signature attesting he or she is a U.S. citizen plus the government’s authority to prosecute violators have always afforded enough protection.

Edward M. Eveld: 816-234-4442, @EEveld

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