Kansas Residents Sue Kobach Over Dual Voter Registration System

Jul 19, 2016

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has been sued for introducing a voter system that has left more than 17,000 Kansans unable to vote in state and local elections.
Credit Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Three Kansas residents sued Secretary of State Kris Kobach today, challenging the dual voter registration system that was proposed by Kobach and adopted by a state commission last week.

The system bars more than 17,000 Kansas voters from voting in state and local elections while allowing them to vote in federal election contests.

The State Rules and Regulations Board last week formally enacted the system as a temporary regulation. Temporary regulations expire in 120 days – in this case, that happens to coincide with the day after the general election on Nov. 8.

The lawsuit claims the Kobach has established and operated the system of dual regulation “without any legal authority” since 2013 and in contravention of orders entered by a Shawnee County judge earlier this year.

“The dual registration system divides registered voters in Kansas into two separate and unequal classes, with vastly different rights and privileges (the “dual registration system”) based on nothing more than the method of registration that a voter uses and the date on which the voter applies to register,” the lawsuit states.

“It permits some voters to vote for President and other federal offices, but prohibits them from voting for state and local offices, including all seats in the Kansas state House and Senate.”

The named plaintiffs are Johnson County residents Marvin Brown, a 90-year-old Army Air Corps veteran, and JoAnn Brown, as well as Sedgwick County resident Charles “Tad” Stricker. The three seek to have the case certified as a class action on behalf of all Kansas residents who registered to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles using the federal registration form.

Stricker also was a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit challenging the dual voter registration system.  In May, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ruled that the proof-of-citizenship requirement violated the part of the National Voter Registration Act requiring “only the minimum amount of information” to determine a voter’s eligibility.

A Kansas law that took effect in 2013 and championed by Kobach as an anti-election-fraud measure requires voter registration applicants to submit documentary proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, when they apply to register to vote. If they do not, the temporary regulation adopted last week permits them to vote only in federal elections.

There are exceptions. Residents who registered to vote before the law took effect on Jan. 1, 2013, are permitted to vote in both federal and state elections. So are residents who register to vote using the state registration form and who submit documentary proof of citizenship. The lawsuit argues that creates separate and unequal classes of voters.

The suit, filed in Shawnee County District Court, asks the court to block the dual registration system as a violation of the Kansas Constitution’s separation of powers clause and equal protection guarantees. It also asks the court to order Kobach to "register all registered voters as qualified electors for all elections."

“We’ve filed suit under Kansas law because Kansas law does not permit the secretary of state to create a dual registration system,” said Doug Bonney, an attorney for the ACLU Foundation of Kansas, which represents the plaintiffs.

“By doing so, the secretary of state is making it so these folks that have registered to vote under federal laws are unable to cast ballots in state and local elections, and there is absolutely no authority for that in Kansas law.”

Kobach, who is in Cleveland attending the Republican National Convention, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR, which is also a partner in a statewide collaboration covering elections in Kansas. You can reach Dan on Twitter @DanMargolies.