Politics & Government

Democrats hail ruling to let 18,000 Kansans vote

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

State and national Democrats on Thursday hailed a federal court order to extend voting privileges to 18,000 Kansans who haven’t provided documents proving citizenship. But they decried confusion over the state’s election system that they blame on Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

In a conference call, party officials said Republicans nationwide – and especially Kobach – are trying to manipulate who can vote in an attempt to improve Republicans’ chances of winning elections.

For a guy who wants to wipe out voter fraud … Kobach appears to be involved in his own attempt to prevent people from voting.

Rep. John Alcala, D-Topeka

“For a guy who wants to wipe out voter fraud … Kobach appears to be involved in his own attempt to prevent people from voting,” said Rep. John Alcala, D-Topeka.

The court ruling by U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ordered Kobach to register 18,000 voter applicants who filled out registration forms at the Department of Motor Vehicles but didn’t provide documents proving their citizenship, as required by a Kansas law that Kobach wrote.

Robinson ruled that the Kansas law conflicts with the motor-voter act, a federal law designed to make it easier for people to vote by requiring DMV offices to also offer voter registration.

Kobach has vowed to file an emergency appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals before the court order takes effect at the end of the month.

The United States Constitution gives states the authority to set qualifications for voters in elections.

Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State

He said he expects to win because “the United States Constitution gives states the authority to set qualifications for voters in elections.”

Robinson’s order applies only to prospective voters who tried to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

If Robinson’s order is upheld, Kobach plans to reinstate a two-tiered voting system. That means the 18,000 new voters would be allowed to vote only on federal candidates – U.S. House, Senate and presidency in this election cycle.

“Clearly, 18,000 is better than zero,” said Pratt Wiley, director of voter expansion for the Democratic National Committee. “That’s I think the first way that we look at this. (But) the two-tier voter registration system is just a disaster waiting to happen. It is an offense to democracy.”

Wiley said the confusion it has generated for the public and even among legal experts “is in and of itself a form of voter suppression.”

“These types of questions, of whether or not one is registered depending upon which form they used, whether it was state or federal, or whether it was at the DMV … all of this confusion ultimately leads back to the fundamental objective of the Republicans in this case, which was to discourage people from engaging in the political process,” Wiley said.

Kobach contends written proof is needed to keep non-citizen immigrants from registering and voting in elections and diluting the voting power of citizens.

Robinson acknowledged that the state has an interest in keeping non-citizens off the rolls but said it was outweighed “by the risk of disenfranchising thousands of qualified voters.”

The proof-of-citizenship requirement at issue in the court case is separate from and requires a higher level of proof than the state law requiring Kansas voters to show photo identification at the polls.

The photo-ID requirement can be satisfied with a driver’s license.

The proof of citizenship to register to vote usually requires a passport or birth certificate, plus proof of marriage- and divorce-related name changes for female applicants.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

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