On Tuesday, March 6, in Kansas City, Kansas, a federal trial will begin that has critical implications for accessing the ballot box. The case surrounds a 2013 law that adds a requirement for Kansans who wish to register to vote to provide documentary proof of citizenship.
The suit filed by the ACLU in February 2016, claims the law violates the Nation Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which requires states to provide the opportunity to register at the DMV and the “minimum amount of information necessary” to register to vote.
The negative impact on voting rights has reverberated across the state. Estimates indicate that the new requirement blocked over 35,000 Kansans from registering to vote from 2013 to 2016.
In September 2016, the 10th Circuit Court granted a preliminary injunction ordering Secretary of State Kris Kobach to register all those blocked due to the failure to provide documentary proof of citizenship. In affirming the preliminary injunction, the court wrote,
“We cannot ignore the irreparable harm of this denial of the right to vote, particularly on such a large scale. There is no contest between the mass denial of a fundamental constitutional right and the modest administrative burdens to be borne by Secretary Kobach’s office and other state and local offices involved in elections. Nor does the negligible risk that a few votes might be cast by noncitizens alter our equitable calculus—especially given the certainty of irreparable harm to the rights of so many citizens”
Tuesday’s case will determine if the injunction against requiring proof of citizenship will stand or if it falls within the minimal amount of information needed to register to vote established by the NVRA. While Secretary Kobach, who is representing himself in the case, has yet to provide substantial evidence of noncitizens voting, a ruling in his favor would require new registrants to prove their citizenship before accessing the ballot.
Moreover, if the court rules against the plaintiffs, the effects on Kansans attempting to register to vote could be three-fold. One, failing to provide proof of citizenship within 90 days after registration will prevent your registration. Two, acquiring proof of citizenship documents, like a birth certificate, will cost time and money if you were born outside of the state and do not have ready access to such documents. Finally, voter registration drives will become extremely difficult, boarding on obsolete, as most people do not carry such documentation with them and could be hesitant to provide these documents to strangers.
An unfavorable ruling in Kansas could mean that similar laws in Alabama, Arizona, and Georgia could move forward. It could also provide an opportunity for states to require new sets of information from new registrants, undermining the uniform system established by the NVRA and increasing barriers to the ballot.
IREHR will be following the trial closely. Check back at IREHR.org, or follow us on Twitter (@IREHR) for daily updates.