Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Judge Orders All Votes by Federal Registrants to Be Counted in Kansas Primary

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Judge Orders All Votes by Federal Registrants to Be Counted in Kansas Primary

Article excerpt

A Shawnee County District Court judge Friday ordered counting of all primary election votes cast by as many as 17,500 Kansans who registered without providing proof of citizenship, marking a defeat for Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who championed the state's citizenship law implemented three years ago.

Judge Larry Hendricks rejected legal arguments delivered by Kobach, who answered a separate federal lawsuit by orchestrating election rules requiring county officials to disregard votes cast Tuesday and Nov. 8 in local and state elections. Kobach's strategy was to limit voting to federal races for people in registration limbo because they didn't offer citizenship documents.

Hendricks said he would issue a temporary injunction sought by the American Civil Liberties Union to block Kobach's dual- registration program for the primary election. The judge plans to revisit the issue in September before the general election. Voting by an estimated 50,000 people could be at stake this fall.

"It's beyond dispute that voting is of the most fundamental significance under our Constitution," the judge said. "There is no right that is more precious to a free country than having a voice in an election."

Kobach, a Republican who serves as the state's chief elections officer, had sought to limit voting to federal contests for registrants who used a federal application, which doesn't require proof of citizenship, or people who registered at state motor vehicle offices but didn't disclose documentary evidence of citizenship. Kobach sought to keep the thousands of people falling into those categories from expressing their views in state legislative or county commission races, while enabling them to vote for U.S. Senate or U.S. House candidates.

After the state court ruling was announced by Hendricks, Kobach said the judge's action knocked a loophole in state law. He said the decision was merely one step in an extensive legal process.

"We're not giving up at all. We'll keep fighting," Kobach said. "At the end of the day, these cases take a long time. Usually, the district court is just the first bump in the road, then the appeals court, then the Supreme Court."

"This ruling is a strong rebuke of Secretary Kobach's efforts to obstruct voters," said Sophia Lakin, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project who argued the case in Topeka.

She said Kansas couldn't operate as if there was a unique law on the books allowing "half-registration."

Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, said the decision guaranteed thousands of Kansas citizens would have the opportunity to fully participate Tuesday in democracy and civic life.

"We look forward to the day when all of Secretary Kobach's illegal, unnecessary and deeply harmful maneuvers to suppress voting are struck down," Kubic said. …

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