TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas judge will consider whether to allow election officials to toss out potentially thousands of votes in state and local races from people who’ve registered without meeting a requirement to document their U.S. citizenship.
Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks was having a hearing Friday on a request from the American Civil Liberties Union to block an administrative rule from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The hearing comes only four days before Tuesday’s primary election.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of three prospective voters earlier this month, a week after a state board allowed Kobach to impose the rule temporarily — through the November election — without a public hearing. It applies to people who register to vote at state motor vehicle offices without providing proof of their U.S. citizenship as required by a 2013 state law.
The affected voters are to receive provisional ballots to be reviewed later, and county election officials are directed to count only their votes for federal offices, not state and local ones. Ahead of the primary, about 17,600 people registered at motor vehicle offices without providing citizenship papers, and the rule could apply to 50,000 people in November.
The rule is a response to a federal judge’s ruling in May in another lawsuit that people who register at motor vehicle offices are entitled to vote in federal races even if they’ve not met the proof-of-citizenship requirement. The ACLU contends that Kansas law doesn’t give Kobach the power to create a two-tiered voting system and doing so violates the affected voters’ constitutional rights by treating them unequally. Its solution is to allow their votes in all races to be counted.
Kobach, a conservative Republican, has championed the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirement as a measure to fight election fraud. He argues that in complying with the federal judge’s order, he’s still required to enforce the proof-of-citizenship law as much as possible.
Critics of proof-of-citizenship requirements say they suppress voter turnout — particularly among young and minority voters — far more than they combat fraud. Alabama, Arizona and Georgia have similar requirements, but Kansas has gone the furthest to enforce its law.
The Kansas proof-of-citizenship law and its enforcement have been the subject of multiple federal and state-court lawsuits. The federal judge who previously ruled against Kobach on Friday dismissed most of a second federal lawsuit against him on technical grounds but said a challenge to the constitutionality of the entire proof-of-citizenship law could go forward.
A federal law requires states to allow people to register at motor vehicle offices when they’re obtaining or renewing driver’s licenses. States can impose “necessary” registration restrictions, but the federal judge ruled in May that people document their citizenship by signing a statement on the registration form, facing criminal penalties if it’s not true.
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