Secretary of State Kris Kobach and his critics are tangled in two lawsuits over whether Kansas will create a dual voter registration system, but the disputes are only proxies for ongoing battles over the state’s proof-of-citizenship law. The lawsuits, one each in state and federal court, deal with how Kansas treats prospective voters who use the federal government’s national registration form. The federal form has people sign a statement affirming their U.S. citizenship but doesn’t require them to produce a birth certificate, passport or other citizenship papers. If people use state registration forms, they aren’t eligible to cast ballots in any race until they produce citizenship papers under a law that took effect in January. Under a dual registration system, people who use the state form and comply with the proof-of-citizenship rule could vote in any race on the ballot. People who use the federal forms and don’t submit citizenship papers to election officials would be eligible to vote only in presidential, U.S. Senate and congressional races.
Kansas is moving toward such a system, though Kobach last week described the steps as only “contingency plans” for a worst-case scenario. The secretary of state championed the proof-of-citizenship law, and he’s trying to prevent his critics from using the national registration form to undermine the law’s enforcement. Meanwhile, his opponents are trying to prevent him from blocking a less restrictive path to voter registration.
“This is the path we chose to take,” said Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay-rights group, which is suing Kobach in the state court case.
The Equality Kansas lawsuit, filed last week in Shawnee County District Court, seeks to prevent Kobach from creating a dual registration system, arguing that it would violate voters’ rights to equal legal protection. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the gay rights group, along with voters from Lawrence and Overland Park.
But three months ago, Kobach, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett and their states filed a federal lawsuit in Kansas against the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, hoping to force it to revise the national voter registration form to help their states enforce proof-of-citizenship rules. Arizona enacted its law in 2004.