WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has no legal right to bar voters who use a federal form to register from casting ballots in local and state elections, a judge ruled Friday.
The summary judgment in Shawnee County District Court came in a lawsuit in which two Kansas voters challenged the so-called “dual registration” system for voters, where those who register to vote using a federal form — which doesn’t require voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship — may only vote in federal races. Voters may only cast ballots in state and local races if they register using the state form, which requires proof of citizenship.
The court found the right to vote under current Kansas law is not tied to the method of registration.
Since January 2013, Kansas has required new voters to show proof of citizenship to register to vote. Kobach later lost a federal lawsuit he brought seeking to force the U.S. election officials to change the federal registration form to require citizenship documentation for Kansas residents, and in response, Kobach instituted the dual voting lists, which took effect in 2014.
Under the dual voting lists, federally registered voters are given a provisional ballot in Kansas and election officials throw out any votes made in local or state races. The judge separately noted such provisional ballots that Kobach mandated for the federally registered voters violate the secrecy of the ballot, especially in smaller precincts where election officials know their neighbors.
“Clearly no such authority exists at all in the Kansas Secretary of State to encumber the voting process as he has done here,” Judge Franklin Theis wrote.
The court said that Kobach and his deputy, in their effort to enforce their view of the law, overstepped because “the Kansas legislature has yet to pave the way for the implementation of the Secretary’s views,” Theis wrote.
A spokesman for Kobach’s office said Friday they would have no comment on the ruling.
The lawsuit was brought in 2013 on behalf of the two voters by the American Civil Liberties Union. Julie Ebenstein, the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project attorney, said this is the first state court ruling on whether new dual registration system is legal.
She added that if Kobach follows the court’s decision, then other voters in Kansas who registered using the federal form should be able to vote in state and local elections.
Kobach has championed the documentation requirement as a way to prevent non-citizens from voting, particularly immigrants in the U.S. illegally. Critics contend the requirement suppresses turnout.
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