Politics & Government

Judge rules Kobach lacks authority to set up dual voting system

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. File photo

A Shawnee County judge ruled Friday that Secretary of State Kris Kobach lacks the authority to set up a dual voting system in Kansas.

Judge Larry Hendricks had already granted an injunction against a dual voting system through the current election, but on Friday he issued a permanent injunction that will apply to future elections.

The ruling ensures that Kansas voters who registered at the DMV or by using the federal registration form can vote in local, state and federal elections regardless of whether they provide proof of citizenship. Kobach indicated he would appeal after the election.

“It’s not surprising. Judge Hendricks made clear where he was coming from in the hearings,” Kobach said in a phone call. “We believe that today’s decision is wrong and we’re evaluating what the next step will be, but at some point there will certainly be an appeal of his decision.”

The ruling does not change voting in the current election because the judge’s previous order applies through Election Day, Kobach said.

The state enacted a requirement in 2013 that voters must provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote, a measure championed by Kobach. Supporters say the requirement prevents noncitizens from voting. Opponents say it actually makes it tougher for citizens to vote.

One of the plaintiffs in the Shawnee County case was a 90-year-old Army veteran who had been blocked from registering because of the requirement.

The denial of more than 18,000 individuals’ right to vote far eclipses the Defendant’s demonstrated – and undeniable – interest in a secure election.

Larry Hendricks, Shawnee County judge

Hendricks said in his ruling that the rights of actual citizens who would be blocked from voting trumped Kobach’s concerns about noncitizens potentially becoming registered.

“Even when weighed against the 25 Sedgwick County individuals identified by the Defendant who attempted to register to vote over a period of 13 years, the denial of more than 18,000 individuals’ right to vote far eclipses the Defendant’s demonstrated — and undeniable — interest in a secure election,” Hendricks said.

Federal courts ruled earlier in the year that the state could not enforce the requirement for people who register at the DMV or use the federal form. Kobach had initially argued that these rulings applied only to the voters’ ability to vote in federal elections and did not empower them to vote in state and local races.

The judge rejected that argument.

This decision recognizes that Kansans’ right to vote in state and local elections should be honored, no matter what registration form they used.

Sophia Lakin, ACLU attorney

Sophia Lakin, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, who represented the voters, called the ruling “a victory for Kansas voters and a stinging rebuke of Secretary Kobach’s repeated efforts to improperly use his authority to obstruct their access to the ballot.”

“This decision recognizes that Kansans’ right to vote in state and local elections should be honored, no matter what registration form they used,” Lakin said.

The proof of citizenship requirement remains in effect for any voters who registered through the state’s website. There were still more than 6,900 suspended voters as of Thursday morning. Those people will be unable to vote unless they provide proof of citizenship to their local election office by Monday.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3

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