The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, contending that a dual voting system established by his office last week violates a previous court ruling.
A state panel approved a temporary rule last week to allow more than 17,000 Kansans, who registered to vote at DMV offices without providing proof of citizenship, to vote in federal elections this August and November under the federal motor voter law.
The move was meant to satisfy a federal court order. But the ACLU contends that blocking these voters from state and local elections runs afoul of a previous ruling by a Shawnee County judge that Kobach lacks the authority to create a dual voting system.
The ACLU challenged the legality of the system in a Shawnee County court filing Tuesday.
“Secretary Kobach continues to seek ways to confuse and obstruct voters in Kansas,” said Sophia Lakin, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, in a news release.
“His flagrant disregard of the court’s findings means that Kansans still face unnecessary barriers to voting,” Lakin said. “We’re asking the court to immediately block the temporary regulation and to ultimately end this dual system once and for all.”
Kobach, who is in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention, said in an e-mail that this “is the latest frivolous ACLU lawsuit attempting to knock down our proof of citizenship law.”
“The ACLU ignores the fact that Kansas law clearly provides the Secretary of State’s office with the authority to issue the regulation in question,” he said. “The ACLU also ignores the fact that the regulation was issued in order to comply with a federal court order.”
The federal court order is the result of a separate lawsuit filed by the ACLU.
Kobach has previously dismissed the relevance of the January ruling on the new voter rule since it dealt specifically with people who had registered with the federal form rather than motor voters. The ACLU’s new lawsuit includes both sets of voters.
As of Monday, there were 18,636 people total who could vote in federal elections but who would be barred from voting in state and local races without proof of citizenship, Craig McCullah, a spokesman for Kobach, said in an e-mail.
‘Doesn’t seem right’
One of the plaintiffs in the suit is Charles Stricker, 37, who is general manager of the Ambassador Hotel in Wichita.
Stricker moved to Kansas from Chicago three years ago. He tried to register to vote when he applied for a driver’s license in October 2014, but he did not provide proof of citizenship and was blocked from voting that year.
“I went to the polling location and, gosh, what a surprise it was walking in that day to find out that my name was not on the voter rolls and I was told that my vote essentially wouldn’t count,” he said, explaining that when he registered at the DMV no one asked him for documents to prove his citizenship.
The new rule would allow him to vote in the presidential and congressional races, but he and more than 17,000 other motor voters still would be blocked from participating in state legislative and local races this year.
“I mean, I certainly pay taxes at all levels … and yet I don’t have a say in the (state and local) government? And I can’t make my vote heard?” Stricker said. “You know, that doesn’t seem right to me.”
Stricker, who was born in Missouri, noted that the federal requirements, which he followed, require a person to attest to his or her citizenship. He said no more proof should be needed.
The other two named plaintiffs in the case are a Johnson County couple, Marvin and JoAnn Brown, who registered to vote in January using the federal form. They are allowed to vote only in federal elections this season.
“My family has been in Kansas since about 1850,” said Marvin Brown, a 90-year-old Army veteran, in a statement. “It’s wrong that a bunch of so-called leaders would tell me that I have to show a bunch of extra documents before I can vote. As a military veteran who fought to protect our democracy, it’s particularly offensive.”
The issue of registration through federal form is complicated by a decision by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission earlier this year to allow Kansas and two other states to require proof of citizenship for federal form registrants.
The 250 people who registered to vote using the federal form and did not provide proof of citizenship between 2013 and February 2016, such as the Browns, are allowed to vote in federal elections, according to Bryan Caskey, the state’s director of elections.
However, anyone who signed up to vote with the federal form and did not provide proof of citizenship since February will be blocked from voting in all elections because of the commission’s decision, which also faces a court challenge.
Those voters are in suspended status for the time being and have 90 days to provide proof of citizenship before they have to restart the registration process.
Marge Ahrens, co-president of the Kansas League of Women Voters, said it’s likely many people who registered using the federal form in recent months are unaware they won’t be able to vote this year unless a court intervenes.
“There’s no way this can be anything but confusing,” she said.