TOPEKA — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to consider an appeal by Kansas to reinstate a law requiring new voters to prove their citizenship.
U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ruled the law unconstitutional in 2018 following a trial in which former Secretary of State Kris Kobach failed to prove claims of widespread voter fraud. Robinson also held Kobach in contempt of court, made him go back to law school, and ordered the state to pay American Civil Liberties Union legal fees.
Between 2013 and 2016, the proof of citizenship requirement blocked at least 30,000 legal Kansas voters from attempting to register to vote.
“Kansas voters can breathe a sigh of relief,” said Lauren Bonds, ACLU of Kansas legal director. “After years of litigation, we finally have a binding court decision blocking Kansas’s suppressive documentary proof of citizenship requirement. We are eager to build on this victory and make voting more accessible to Kansans.”
The law required voters to present a birth certificate or other form of verification when they registered. Other measures included in the law, such as the requirement to display photo identification at the polls, remain intact.
Current Secretary of State Scott Schwab said his office will work with the attorney general and legislative leaders to consider potential changes to the 2013 law, which won nearly unanimous approval from the Legislature. Gov. Laura Kelly, as a state senator, voted in support of the law.
The goal, Schwab said, is to find a constitutional way to ensure the integrity of the poll books.
“I really think it’s best to let us put our thoughts into what’s appropriate and come up with something again that’s consensus,” Schwab said.
Kansas Reflector reported as part of the Battle for the Ballot series before the November election that political leaders like Kobach and President Donald Trump use the myth of voter fraud to justify laws like the proof of citizenship requirement to make it more difficult to vote. Research and court records show voter fraud is extraordinarily rare, but Kobach and Trump have influenced public opinion by frequently repeating debunked claims.
Kansas Republican Party Chairman Mike Kuckelman said it still is important to protect the integrity of Kansas elections.
“My house has never been burglarized. I still lock my doors,” Kuckelman said. “Regardless of what level of fraud you anticipate, it still make sense to keep elections tightly controlled. It makes absolute sense.”
Sherman Smith has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal, where he started on the copy desk, then oversaw digital operations, was the managing editor and reported from the Statehouse. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.