ACLU sues over two-tiered elections planned in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday seeking to block a two-tiered election system that would require Kansas election officials to throw out thousands of votes in state and local races from people who registered at motor vehicle offices or used a federal form without providing documents proving U.S. citizenship.

Their lawsuit comes a week after the State Rules and Regulation Board approved a rule that counts only votes cast in federal races by new Kansas voters who registered at state motor vehicle offices but don’t comply with the 2013 state law requiring them to provide citizenship papers.

The rule, sought by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, would remain in effect through Nov. 8, the date of the general election. If that action is allowed to stand, thousands of Kansas voters will be denied their right to vote in state and local elections in a year when all 165 seats of the Kansas Legislature are up for election, the ACLU argued.

The rule applies to new Kansas voters who register at state motor vehicle offices but don’t comply with a 2013 state law requiring them to provide citizenship papers. About 17,000 people were in that category this month, but as many as 50,000 prospective voters could be affected in the November election. In addition,the lawsuit seeks to restore full voting rights to another 383 Kansas residents who used a federal form to register

The Kansas secretary of state’s office said it was reviewing the complaint, and would issue a statement later.

The board’s approval came a day before the state opened advance voting for its Aug. 2 primary, and it’s allowed by law if an agency, such as Kobach’s office, sees quick action as necessary to preserve “the public peace, health, safety or welfare.”

Under the policy, the affected voters will receive provisional ballots, which will be set aside at polling places to be examined later. County election officials will count their votes for president, U.S. Senate and Congress but not for state and local races or local ballot questions.

A state court concluded earlier this year that such “post-vote editing” of provisional ballots violates the secrecy of the ballot and that Kobach doesn’t have legislative authority to create a dual system, the ACLU noted in its lawsuit. That January ruling said the right to vote is not tied to the method of registration, but issued no orders because Kobach registered those voters, without their consent, after they sued.

The Kansas proof-of-citizenship law has been at the center of multiple lawsuits, including one in which U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ruled in May that, under federal law, people who register at motor vehicle offices are eligible to cast ballots in federal races, regardless of whether they’ve met the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirement.

Robinson temporarily blocked Kansas from enforcing its law against people who registered at motor vehicle offices, finding it likely violates the National Voter Registration Act. But after a federal appeals court upheld Robinson’s ruling to register them for federal elections, Kobach, a conservative Republican, instructed local election officials to use provisional ballots and not count their votes in state and local races; the board approved the measure last week.

Kobach has championed the proof-of-citizenship requirement as a way to prevent voting by noncitizens. But critics of the law contend voter fraud is not a problem, and say the requirement suppresses voter turnout, particularly among young and minority voters.

Alabama, Arizona and Georgia have similar registration requirements on the books, but Alabama and Georgia are not currently enforcing their proof-of-citizenship law. Arizona does not require additional citizenship papers from people registering at motor vehicle offices.