Politics & Government

ACLU wants Kobach held in contempt, says he disregarded court order

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in his office in Topeka (May 2017)
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in his office in Topeka (May 2017) File photo

The American Civil Liberties Union wants Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach held in contempt of court, arguing he disregarded a court order to register voters.

The ACLU filed court documents late Monday seeking a contempt order, or asking a judge to order Kobach to update election procedures to make clear that those seeking to register to vote in federal elections at Department of Motor Vehicle locations are exempt from a Kansas law that requires proof of citizenship to register.

The ACLU says Kobach, who is running for governor, is refusing to correct errors in his manual for local election officials and is not ensuring that voters who register at DMV sites in accordance with an earlier court order are receiving certificates of registration saying they can vote.

“These violations could be cured easily…Yet, despite numerous efforts by Plaintiffs over the past six months to obtain Defendant’s compliance, Defendant has refused, and has stated that he will not take corrective action even if final judgment is rendered against him after trial,” an ACLU court filing says.

A spokeswoman for Kobach didn’t comment on the court filing. On Tuesday night, Kobach declined to comment extensively, but said the ACLU’s motion is “completely without merit.”

“My objective … is to make it easy to vote but hard to cheat,” Kobach said in September. “Those are completely compatible goals.”

Kobach has refused to instruct local election officials to send certificates of registration to voters who registered through the motor-voter process or by using a federal voter registration form unless they’ve submitted proof of citizenship, the ACLU contends. The organization argues that constitutes a violation of a previous court order.

According to an affidavit signed by Ho, attorneys for Kobach said that the secretary of state’s office would not change the language in the county elections manual, even if the court rules against Kobach. The office will alter the manual only if an appeals court upholds a final judgment against Kobach or the U.S. Supreme Court rules against him.

The ACLU also notes that all other voters receive certificates of registration, which confirm an applicant’s registration is officially complete, along with information about polling locations.

“And yet, Defendant treats covered voters as second-class voters by depriving them of the same documents and voting information that all other registered voters receive,” the ACLU says in the filing.

The contempt filing comes in a federal lawsuit first filed in February 2016 that challenges Kansas’s requirement that voter registration applicants provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, to complete the registration process. A trial in the case is set for March.

A federal judge has already effectively suspended the requirement for individuals who want to vote in federal elections.

Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, said the requirement ensures that citizens can vote.

“This is not voter suppression,” Huebert said. He added: “If you’re not a citizen, you don’t have a right to vote.”

The ACLU has previously sought to hold Kobach in contempt in the same case. In September 2016, the organization filed a contempt motion, but Kobach reached a deal before a contempt hearing was held.

“It is concerning when a lawyer sworn to uphold the rule of law law disregards court orders,” said Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita. Kobach’s behavior is becoming “becoming a repeat pattern of what is known as professional misconduct,” he said.

Kobach is now a candidate for governor and any new contempt proceedings would likely attract significant attention. He was also vice-chairman of an election commission appointed by President Donald Trump, who disbanded the panel last week.

The commission attracted several lawsuits, with a fellow commissioner even suing, saying Kobach and others had withheld information.

President Donald Trump appointed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to a new commission on May 11, 2017, that will investigate voter fraud and other election issues, according to White House officials. This video includes photos by AP Photo/Car

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman