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WICHITA, Kan. — A federal judge on Monday struck down a Kansas law requiring documentary proof of U.S. citizenship to register to vote, finding that such laws violate the constitutional right to vote. The ruling has national implications for voting rights.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson in Kansas City is the latest setback for Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has championed such laws and led President Donald Trump's now-defunct voter fraud commission. The 118-page decision consolidated two cases challenging a Kansas voter registration law requiring people to provide documents such as a birth certificate, U.S. passport or naturalization papers.
The decision makes permanent an earlier injunction that had temporarily blocked the law.
No other state has been as aggressive as Kansas in imposing proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirements. Alabama and Georgia have proof-of-citizenship laws that are not currently being enforced, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Arizona is the only other state with a similar law in effect, but that law is far more lenient and allows people to satisfy it by writing their driver's license number on the voter registration form.
The lead case filed by the ACLU on behalf of several named voters and the League of Women Voters is centered on the National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as the Motor Voter Law, which allows people to register to vote when applying for a driver's license. The case required Kobach to prove that Kansas has a significant problem with noncitizens registering to vote.
But her ruling also encompassed a less-publicized legal challenge filed by Kansas voter Parker Bednasek, which is not limited to motor-voter applicants cited in the ACLU lawsuit and therefore encompasses all Kansas voters.
Kobach, a conservative Republican who is running for governor, was a leading source for Trump's unsubstantiated claim that millions of immigrants in the country illegally voted in the 2016 election.
The cases have drawn national attention because of its implications for voting rights as Republicans pursue laws they say are aimed at preventing voter fraud but critics contend target Democrat-leaning minorities and college students who may not have such documentation.
Kansas has about 1.8 million registered voters. Kobach has told the court that he has been able to document 127 noncitizens who at least tried to register to vote. Forty-three of them were successful in registering, he says, and 11 have voted since 2000. Five of those people registered at motor vehicle offices, according to Kobach.
In the first three years after the Kansas law went into effect in 2013, about one in seven voter registration applications in Kansas were blocked for lack of proof of citizenship — with nearly half of the would-be voters under the age of 30, according to court documents. From 2013 to 2016, more than 35,000 Kansans were unable to register to vote.
Courts had temporarily blocked Kobach from fully enforcing the Kansas law, with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver calling it "a mass denial of a fundamental constitutional right."