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ACLU notifies Kansas of possible suit over voter-ID law

8/13/2013

By JOHN HANNA

By JOHN HANNA

AP Political Writer

TOPEKA -- The American Civil Liberties Union notified Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach on Tuesday that it intends to file a federal lawsuit over a state law requiring new voters to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship unless the state removes "bureaucratic hurdles" to their registrations.

The ACLU informed Kobach in a letter that it considers Kansas in violation of a federal election law requiring states to allow people to register to vote at their driver's license offices. While federal law allows groups and individuals to sue states over federal voting requirements, they must give states 90 days' notice and an opportunity to correct problems.

The Kansas proof-of-citizenship requirement took effect in January. The secretary of state's office says more than 14,000 voters' registrations are in "suspense" because they filled out registration forms but election officials haven't yet received a birth certificate, passport or other acceptable document. Without such proof, ballots they'd cast would not be legally valid.

"They will be denied the right to vote," said Doug Bonney, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri. "The right to vote is the way we protect all other rights."

Kobach is the architect of the proof-of-citizenship rule and argues that it prevents fraudulent ballots from being cast by non-citizens, including immigrants in the U.S. illegally. He and his spokeswoman did not immediately respond to telephone and email messages seeking comment.

But in an interview earlier this month, Kobach said having a pool of voters whose registrations are in limbo is "a natural part" of the new law, because Kansas opted to allow people to fill out registration forms and present citizenship papers later. He said the state is being "permissive" in administering the requirement.

"No one's vote is suppressed," he said. "If that's suppressing a vote, then so is having registration in the first place."

The ACLU said it was sending the notice on behalf of three voters, as well as the state chapter of the NAACP, the Lawrence and Douglas County chapter of the League of Women Voters and Equality Kansas, the state's leading gay-rights group. The 90-day notice period would end Nov. 11.

The ACLU argues that under federal law, the state must accept the registration of any prospective voter with a valid driver's license. Bonney said Kansas can fix its problem is to allow prospective voters to use a federal registration form, which requires them to attest that they are U.S. citizens, without requiring them to submit other papers. Most Kansans register using a state form.

Critics of the proof-of-citizenship law and another policy enacted at Kobach's urging to require voters to show photo identification at the polls note that the state has seen only a relative handful of prosecutions for election fraud over the past decade, despite having nearly 1.8 million registered voters.

In contrast, Bonney said, 14,000 voters with registrations in suspense is "a shocking number."

The ACLU letter said: "Moving forward, we hope you will ensure that, consistent with Kansas' obligations under federal law, all Kansas citizens have an opportunity to register to vote without having to navigate unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles."

The letter also noted that in June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of a proof-of-citizenship law in Arizona, enacted there in 2004 by voter initiative and suggested that the justices' decision invalidates the Kansas statute. Georgia and Alabama also have such laws.

But Kobach said after the Supreme Court decision that the Kansas law was drafted carefully and didn't have the same flaws as the Arizona law -- and promised Kansas would continue enforcing its rule.

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Online:

ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri: https://aclukswmo.org/

Kansas secretary of state's office: http://www.kssos.org

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