Editorials

At least courts are protecting voting rights in Kansas

Secretary of State Kris Kobach has made a mess of voter registration.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach has made a mess of voter registration.

The mess that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has made of voter registration draws yawns at the Statehouse. At least the courts continue to look out for the thousands of Kansans who would have registered to vote since 2013 if not for the Kobach-pushed law requiring they produce U.S. citizenship documents.

The most recent ruling came Tuesday from U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson in Kansas City, Kan. She ordered Kobach to register more than 18,000 prospective voters who’d filed applications at motor vehicle offices, as per the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, but whose registrations were stalled or canceled for lack of citizenship proof. (Though more than 32,000 registrations were in limbo at one point, before Kobach started purging them last fall after 90 days, Robinson’s ruling covers only those applications filed in the process of obtaining driver’s licenses.)

Robinson put her preliminary injunction on hold until May 31. Kobach plans to appeal, and told the court Wednesday that he already had changed policies to improve citizenship verification among agencies – a welcome step, though he’d promised lawmakers a “seamless” system from the start.

Unless Kobach prevails at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, he will have to register the 18,000-plus Kansans and allow them to vote in upcoming elections for U.S. House, Senate and president.

That outcome would further Kobach’s absurd two-tiered registration scheme, which allows only those who’ve complied with the state’s proof-of-citizenship law to vote in local and state races. But some voting rights are better than none for now, especially with Kobach’s authority to grant partial voter registration under challenge in a separate legal case.

Kobach told Robinson in an April hearing that a ballot cast by a noncitizen “effectively cancels out the vote of a U.S. citizen.”

But the evidence in the case shows that only three noncitizens cast votes in Kansas between 2003 and 2013, the most recent in 2009. And as Robinson noted in her ruling, “even if instances of noncitizens voting cause indirect voter disenfranchisement by diluting the votes of citizens, such instances pale in comparison to the number of qualified citizens who have been disenfranchised by this law.”

And because some see partisanship in every criticism of Kobach and the state law requiring proof of citizenship to register and photo ID to vote: Let it be said that Robinson was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2001, nominated on the recommendation of then-Sen. Sam Brownback, and praised by Sen. Pat Roberts for her “thoughtful opinions and judicious applications and unquestioned professionalism.”

Fifteen years later, Robinson is doing her job in defending the rights of citizens to register and vote. And if “the court’s order would be a nightmare to administer,” as Kobach told the Associated Press, the blame for the many problems stemming from the law is all his.

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