Government & Politics

ACLU sues Kris Kobach over rule that would keep some Kansans from voting in state elections

“This is the latest frivolous ACLU lawsuit attempting to knock down our proof of citizenship law,” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said in a statement.
“This is the latest frivolous ACLU lawsuit attempting to knock down our proof of citizenship law,” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said in a statement. The Associated Press

The American Civil Liberties Union is taking Kris Kobach back to court.

The group announced Tuesday that it filed a lawsuit against the Kansas secretary of state over a temporary state regulation that throws out the votes from some people who registered to vote at state motor vehicle offices. The rule violates state law and the Kansas Constitution, the ACLU said in an announcement accompanying the lawsuit.

Three plaintiffs who are trying to vote in Kansas — Marvin L. Brown, JoAnn Brown and Charles William Stricker — are named in the lawsuit.

Set to last for 120 days, or until the Nov. 8 election, the rule change would allow voters who did not show proof of citizenship when they registered to vote to cast ballots in federal, but not state, elections. That would mean their votes would be counted for U.S. Senate and House races but not be counted in elections for the Kansas Legislature this year.

The secretary of state’s office estimated that the change would affect 17,000 people in the August primary. That number could grow as high as 50,000 by the general election in November. Under the federal “motor voter” law, people can register to vote at their local motor vehicle office.

This creates a dual registration system, according to the ACLU, that limits Kansas voters from participating in state and local elections.

The rule was approved last week by the State Rules and Regulations Board. The change received little public notice, with members of the public and media told less than a day in advance that the meeting was being held.

Critics of the change said it could affect contested primaries across the state. The change was approved just a day before early voting started for the Aug. 2 primary. All 165 seats in the Kansas Legislature are on the ballot this election year.

The way the rule was passed last week was rushed and disturbing, said Doug Bonney, legal director of the ACLU of Kansas.

“Nothing really surprises me anymore on this voting stuff in Kansas,” Bonney said of the rule change. “But it takes some chutzpah.”

The Kobach-endorsed voting restrictions have struggled in court this year, including in January when Shawnee County District Judge Franklin Theis ruled that Kobach couldn’t use a two-tiered voting system that only counts votes in federal elections.

During the meeting where the change was approved, members of the secretary of state’s office maintained they were following both court orders and Kansas law. That law, in effect since 2013, states that new voters in the state must show proof of citizenship.

“This is the latest frivolous ACLU lawsuit attempting to knock down our proof of citizenship law,” Kobach said in a statement. “The ACLU ignores the fact that Kansas law clearly provides the secretary of state’s office with the authority to issue the regulation in question. The ACLU also ignores the fact that the regulation was issued in order to comply with a federal court order.”

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw

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