The exasperation in at least one judge’s voice is palpable.
As is the mental scurrying of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as he studiously replies to the queries.
The audio of arguments made Tuesday in a Denver courtroom provides a 30-minute summary of why this case is so crucial to the right to vote.
The back and forth between the three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Kobach and lawyers representing the American Civil Liberties Union deftly outlines the dangers of Kobach’s long-running arguments to undercut the right to vote. Of course, that is not Kobach’s stated intention, but it will be the outcome if he prevails.
What the courts will ultimately decide is this: How far can Kobach legally go to satisfy his urge to chase after nonexistent voter fraud? And if he gets his way, how might any decision in the case bleed out to other states, harming even more people’s right to vote?
Kobach isn’t alone in this march. Others would surely try to follow suit, mimicking and pushing an equally dangerous agenda in other states.
The term “patchwork” was used during the oral arguments. The nation would not be well served if states were allowed to carelessly craft their own versions of election registration laws in ways that would undermine the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
The League of Women Voters of Kansas, in conjunction with the ACLU, sued Kansas on behalf of individual plaintiffs affected by changes the Legislature approved in 2012.
The changes go beyond what is asked for under federal law, asking Kansas voters for proof of citizenship to complete their registration. Problem is, people either don’t have or don’t cart around birth certificates, passports and other documents.
At least 18,000 people in Kansas were kept from active voting status because they failed to follow up with the documents after they tried to register at motor vehicle offices. In May, a federal judge said those people should be allowed to vote in the November elections.
Kobach is arguing against that, and to keep the Kansas law in place.
Listen to this exchange about the spirit and wording of the National Voter Registration Act, a goal of which is to prevent officials from asking for so much eligibility information that it dissuades people from voting:
Kobach: “There is nothing in the text that says a state may not ask for proof of citizenship.”
Judge Carolyn McHugh: “And there is nothing that says that the state can. But there is something that says the state may only ask for the minimum necessary.”
The judge put an emphasis on the word “minimum.” McHugh questioned whether a state could “make them bring in a truckload of documents.”
Kobach quickly replied: “We don’t need to be authorized by the federal government to tell us what we can ask for.”
Attorneys for the ACLU brought up the fact that Kobach hasn’t found a plethora of voter fraud cases to prosecute. The notion that undocumented immigrants or unscrupulous people are conniving to undercut elections is just that: a conjured fantasy.
This alone debunks the rationale for passing the Kansas law in the first place.
The relatively few problems that were uncovered had to do with confusion either by the potential voter or by motor vehicle clerks. Better training and support for the clerks is the answer, not new laws.
People are understandably dissuaded from voting by the stagnation of Congress on so many important issues. Both parties bear guilt. The impact of the Citizens United decision allowing for the creation of super PACs underscores the impression that money and lobbyists have run amok and taken over Washington.
Those issues are a complicated challenge to undo, and they are where voters need to hyper-focus. Unfortunately, an elected official meddling with voting rights only adds to the public’s disdain for government.
People need to believe that their vote matters so that more voters, not fewer, participate. Unnecessary barriers to casting a ballot will never accomplish that goal.