A few weeks after moving to suburban Kansas City from the Seattle area, Aaron Belenky went online to register to vote. But he ended up joining thousands of other Kansas residents whose voting rights are in legal limbo because of the state’s new proof-of-citizenship rule. Starting this year, new voters aren’t legally registered in Kansas until they’ve presented a birth certificate, passport or other document demonstrating U.S. citizenship. Kansas is among a handful of GOP-dominated states enacting rules to keep noncitizens from voting, but the most visible result is a growing pool of nearly 15,000 residents who’ve filled out registration forms but can’t cast ballots. Critics of the law point out that the number of people whose registrations aren’t yet validated — and who are thus blocked from voting — far outpaces the few hundred ballots over the last 15 years that Kansas officials say were potentially tainted by irregularities. Preventing election fraud was often cited as the reason for enacting the law.
Belenky, a 39-year-old computer programmer, has his birth certificate and a passport but said he’d have to open and riffle through boxes in his Overland Park apartment to find them and comply with a rule that doesn’t exist across most of the rest of the nation. And now, the prospective Kansas Democrat is irritated enough that he is ready to join a legal challenge.
Rather than respond to a July letter from election officials, Belenky allowed the American Civil Liberties Union to list him as one of three aggrieved voters in a notice sent this week to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach threatening a federal lawsuit unless the state stops enforcing the proof-of-citizenship requirement. Kobach dismissed the ACLU’s criticism as unfounded and promised that the state wouldn’t relent.
“I don’t like anybody putting up barriers between me and a very basic right,” Belenky said. “It’s the state government saying that they don’t believe me when I say I’m a citizen. I’m offended by that.”