Politics & Government

Opponents playing ‘gotcha’ in voting case, Kobach says

Secretary of State Kris Kobach filed a motion Friday asking a federal court to set aside a default judgment in a case concerning the requirement that Kansans registering to vote provide proof of citizenship.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach filed a motion Friday asking a federal court to set aside a default judgment in a case concerning the requirement that Kansans registering to vote provide proof of citizenship. File photo

Secretary of State Kris Kobach blasted his opponents in a federal lawsuit on Friday, saying they were trying to play a game of legal “gotcha.”

A federal court clerk entered Kobach as being in default in a case concerning the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirement earlier this week because Kobach had failed to file documents with the court on time. Kobach filed a motion on Friday asking the court to set aside the default.

“We were under the impression that the court had suspended all nondiscovery deadlines in the case,” Kobach said.

The case concerns whether the state’s requirement that people provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, to register to vote violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. The case has gone through multiple iterations; the plaintiffs have amended their complaint three times.

“They’re trying to play a game of ‘gotcha’ litigation,” Kobach said. “They keep changing their complaint and forcing us to write a new answer.”

Kobach called the complaint now before the court “version 4.0,” saying his opponents “keep correcting deficiencies in their complaint.”

Will Lawrence, an attorney for the plaintiffs, rejected that characterization.

Lawrence said the original complaint was amended only after Kobach unilaterally registered the original plaintiffs last year, an action that affected their legal standing in the case. The case also has been affected by a ruling in a separate case, which settled some of the matters before the court.

“I think it’s a ridiculous accusation for him to say that, given his antics in this case and how hard he’s working to make sure that people, who are qualified to vote, don’t get to cast their vote in this election,” Lawrence said.

Federal Judge Julie Robinson will decide whether to set aside Kobach’s default status in the case. If she upholds the default, the plaintiffs will have scored a major victory and succeeded in overturning the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirement. Supporters of the requirement say it prevents voter fraud; opponents say it puts up hurdles to voting.

Robinson is presiding over another case involving that requirement. She ruled earlier this year that Kobach could not require people who register at the Department of Motor Vehicles to provide proof of citizenship under the federal Motor Voter Law.

People who register using the state’s website still must provide proof of citizenship.

Robinson has ordered Kobach to instruct local election officials to inform the more than 18,000 DMV voters affected by that ruling of their right to vote.

She approved language Friday for the letter that will have to go out to these voters before Election Day. Robinson rejected Kobach’s original language for the letter, saying in her order that his wording would have been confusing to voters.

Asked about this, Kobach said he was trying to provide more details to voters and that the judge opted for a briefer version. Robinson wrote in her order that “it is not a matter of providing more instead of less information to voters. It is a matter of providing them with consistent information about the law as it stands now.”

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3

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