WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas must begin registering thousands of eligible voters for federal elections who have not provided proof of citizenship under a federal court order that has complicated the state’s elections less than a month before early voting begins for its primary.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office issued instructions to county election officials late Tuesday to register those motor voter applicants without citizenship documentation to vote — but only in the federal races for President and U.S. Senate and U.S. House. Those guidelines come in the wake of a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision last week that refused to temporarily block a federal judge’s order.
Early voting begins July 13 for the state’s primary election in August.
In addition to the presidential race on the November ballot, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran and all four of his Kansas colleagues in the House are up for re-election.
“I don’t think it will be an insurmountable issue. It is mostly tell us what we are to do and we will do it and we will do it in a timely fashion,” said Ronnie Metsker, election commissioner for Johnson County, the state’s most populous county in the Kansas City suburbs.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused last week to temporarily stay Robinson’s order. She ruled last month that the burden for election officials pales in comparison to disenfranchising more than 18,000 otherwise eligible voters whose registrations at motor vehicle offices have been cancelled or suspended.
Robinson’s order strikes a blow to a Kansas law that since January 2013 has required its residents to provide documentary proof U.S. citizenship such as a birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers in order to register to vote.
Nearly 44 percent of voters who registered in Kansas in the last 10 years did so at motor vehicle offices, court documents show. That compares to fewer than 1 percent who register to vote using a federal voter registration form that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 states must accept for federal elections.
Kobach has not responded to numerous calls and emails seeking comment since the appeals court ruling came down.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit, said the confusion over Kansas elections is a problem of Kobach’s own making.
“To the extent there is confusion that lies squarely with Secretary Kobach,” said Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas.
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said he began Monday identifying the nearly 1,000 motor voter registrants affected in his county which includes the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He has already prepared a federal-only ballot.
The most vital thing, he said, is for his election office to be prepared to implement whatever rulings come down in the way that is the least confusing for voters.
“My job is not to decide policy, my job is to implement the law for the voter,” he said.
Kobach instituted a two-tiered system for the 2014 elections after the federal courts refused to order the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to change the federal voter registration form to require proof of citizenship for Kansas residents.
Earlier this year that a state judge found Kobach has no authority to bar voters who use a national voter registration form from casting ballots in local and state elections. The Shawnee County judge in that state case ruled that the right to vote is not tied to the method of registration.
To further complicate matters, Kansas is now embroiled in another federal lawsuit in Washington, D.C., over the unilateral decision by the EAC’s new executive director to change that federal form to require residents in Kansas, Georgia and Alabama to provide citizenship documents. A ruling is pending in that case too.
“The courts are sorting out this matter, and the attorney general will not, and does not, advise any state official to violate any court order,” said Clint Blaes, spokesman for Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
The 10th Circuit will hear oral arguments in the state’s appeal of Robinson’s order in the motor voter case on Aug. 23, making it unlikely there will be a decision in time for the November election.