A ruling was handed down today, Fri., Jan. 15, in the lawsuit brought against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and his two-tiered voter registration system in Kansas. The ruling, issued by Shawnee County Judge Frank Thesis, found the Secretary of State’s two-tiered system illegal.
The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union after Kobach set up a system that did not allow individuals who registered to vote using the Federal Voter Registration form to vote in any race other than those for national office – i.e. Senate, Congress and Presidential races. This required those individuals to vote using a provisional ballot, where they appeared to be voting for all offices, but election office staff members only counted their vote for national offices.
Kobach set up this two-tiered system after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to amend the Federal form to include Kansas’ requirement that proof of citizenship be submitted in order to be registered. The Kansas Legislature passed a law that requires the provision of proof of citizenship to register to vote. The 2014 elections was the first election where the Proof of citizenship rule was in effect.
Forced to use the federal form, Kobach established his two-tiered system that treated individuals who voted using the Federal form differently. It was this difference in treatment that was in question in the case of Belenky, Jones Vs Kobach. In his ruling, Judge Thesis wrote, “There is no such thing as “partial registration” to be found in the Kansas statute books. … In Kansas, a person is either registered to vote or he or she is not. By current Kansas Law, registration, hence, the right to vote, is not tied to the method of registration.”
As an administrator, not a lawmaker, Judge Thesis wrote Kobach cannot on his own implement a two-tiered voting system in Kansas. However, his ruling does seem to open the door to allow the Kansas Legislature to pass a law establishing a two-tiered system. So, don’t be surprised, based on this ruling, if someone doesn’t introduce such a bill during the 2016 legislative session.
In the meantime, expect Kobach to appeal the ruling to a higher court. The appeal process could go on beyond the November elections and since the judge’s ruling doesn’t cancel the process effectively immediately, that may still mean thousands of Kansans who registered using the federal form may be limited in their ability to vote.
That’s still a better position to be in that the tens of thousands of Kansas who registered using the state form but never turned in their proof of citizenship. Kobach announced a policy that purged those registrations. They had been held in “suspense,” pending the submission of their proof of citizenship. Most of those registrations were purged at the end of the 2015.