Kobach losses are good news for voting rights

Secretary of State Kris Kobach has been on a legal losing streak.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach has been on a legal losing streak.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach has been on a legal losing streak. And that’s good news for voting rights in Kansas.

Kobach’s latest loss came last Friday. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia blocked Kansas and two other states from requiring voters to show proof of citizenship if they register to vote using the federal form. The federal registration form requires only that people swear they are U.S. citizens.

The plot in this case was thickened by the fact that Brian Newby, executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, authorized the voting form change without holding a public hearing or receiving approval from the EAC commissioners. Newby previously served as Johnson County election commissioner under Kobach’s supervision, and Kobach lobbied for him to get the federal job.

At the hearing last week, judges raised concern about adding hurdles for eligible voters. The injunction means that Kansans who registered using the federal form can vote in the November election unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes.

This ruling is similar to another case that Kobach lost in May. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ruled that more than 18,000 people who registered to vote at motor vehicle offices, as per the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, should be allowed to vote even though they didn’t provide proof of citizenship.

Robinson noted that Kansas identified only three illegal voters and 14 illegal registrants from 1995 to 2013. “On this record, the court cannot find that the state’s interest in preventing noncitizens from voting in Kansas outweighs the risk of disenfranchising thousands of qualified voters,” Robinson wrote.

Kobach appealed that ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which has yet to rule. At a hearing last month, judges questioned Kobach’s authority to enact additional state requirements to register to vote.

Then there is the question of whether Kobach will allow these Kansans to vote in all elections or only federal races. Shawnee County District Court Judge Franklin Theis ruled last January that Kobach had no legal authority to prevent people who registered using the federal form from voting in local and state elections.

“Clearly no such authority exists at all in the Kansas secretary of state to encumber the voting process as he has done here,” Theis wrote.

But Kobach set up such a system anyway. And in July, Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks temporarily blocked that dual-voting scheme.

“Losing one’s vote is an irreparable harm in my opinion,” wrote Hendricks, who scheduled another hearing for next week.

Here is hoping Kobach’s losing streak continues and that voting rights in Kansas are protected and preserved.