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Kobach representing himself to face ACLU over who can vote in Kansas

Issued: 2018-03-06

By Bryan Lowry

March 05, 2018 02:41 PM

A federal trial that starts Tuesday in Kansas City, Kan., will determine whether thousands of potential Kansas voters can cast ballots this November when the state chooses a new governor.

And the lead attorney who will be fighting to preserve the law that could block those Kansans from voting is a man who hopes to be on the ballot: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican candidate for governor and the architect of the state’s proof of citizenship law.

“It’s kind of unusual for the person who is trying to set the rules of the election to also be running in that election. Some might say there’s something of a conflict of interest there,” said Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, who will be squaring off in court against Kobach.

The law, which requires prospective voters to provide a copy of their birth certificate or passport, has been the subject of years of litigation. Supporters say it prevents non-citizens from voting, but opponents say it actually makes it more difficult for rightful voters to register.

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A federal judge blocked the law from being fully enforced in the 2016 election; this trial will determine whether it will be in effect in 2018 and beyond.

Between 16,000 and 22,000 potential voters could be affected by the judge’s eventual ruling in the case, which focuses on whether Kobach can require people who register at the Division of Vehicles to provide such documents. The ACLU argues he lacks the authority under the National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as the motor voter law.

The American Civil Liberties Union kicked off “Let People Vote” on Sunday at the Lied Center in Lawrence. The effort is aimed at opposing stricter voting regulations, which backers say will prevent voter fraud but which critics say is unnecessary and ultimately meant to suppress otherwise legal voting. Allison Long and Hunter WoodallThe Kansas City Star

“The stakes are very high,” Ho said. “Our clients were disenfranchised in the 2014 election. They were able to vote in the 2016 because of the preliminary ruling in this case. If that ruling isn’t made permanent, they very well could lose their ability to vote in November.”

Kobach, who crafted the law and leads the office that enforces it, will serve as his own attorney in court rather than rely on the state’s attorney general, a move that is typical for Kobach but rare for state officials.

Kobach’s office would not comment ahead of Tuesday’s opening arguments. He has previous rejected the notion that his policies had made it more difficult to vote.


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