New plaintiff seeks to join suit challenging proof of citizenship law

? Attorneys in a federal lawsuit challenging Kansas’ proof of citizenship voting law are seeking to add another plaintiff in the case as part of their effort to turn it into a class action lawsuit.

Last week, attorneys filed a motion to amend their complaint, adding a 20-year-old Kansas University student, Parker Bednasek, as a plaintiff. If approved, he would serve as a representative of all members of the class of people whose voter registrations are being blocked for failure to show valid proof of U.S. citizenship.

Plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the proof of citizenship law unconstitutional. They are also asking for an injunction to prevent the state from enforcing a new regulation that requires county election officers to cancel all incomplete applications after 90 days.

Will Lawrence, one of the local attorneys involved in the case, said Bednasek was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Texas before moving to Douglas County to attend KU.

After moving to Kansas, Lawrence said, Bednasek canceled his Texas voter registration, then on Dec. 3 attempted to register in Douglas County but was immediately told his application would be placed “in suspense” for failure to show valid proof that he is a U.S. citizen.

Kansas enacted the proof of citizenship law in 2011, and it took effect Jan. 1, 2013. By the time of the 2014 elections, based on a review of voter data by the Journal-World, more than 23,000 registration applications had been placed in suspense due to that law, or roughly 14 percent of all the people who’d attempted to register during that period.

That law was enacted at the request of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whose office is fighting the lawsuit.

A spokesman in Kobach’s office said their attorneys will ask for an extension of time to respond to the latest motion, but he would not say whether Kobach intends to challenge the attempt to certify the case as a class action.

The case was originally filed by Lawrence attorney and former state Rep. Paul Davis on behalf of two Lawrence residents, Alder Cromwell and Cody Keener. Kobach’s office, however, tried to have the case dismissed after tracking down their birth certificates and approving their individual voter registrations.

His office took similar action for plaintiffs involved in a separate lawsuit in state court in Shawnee County. But there, Judge Frank Theis declined to dismiss the suit on those grounds.

Attorneys in the case have said the effort to certify it as a class action suit is aimed at preventing Kobach’s office from fending off challenges to the law simply by approving the registrations of anyone who files a lawsuit.

In addition to adding Bednasek to the case, plaintiffs have also added another attorney, Curtis E. Woods from the Kansas City, Mo., office of Dentons, a national law firm. Woods is primarily a corporate attorney but has experience handling class action cases, Lawrence said.

Mark Johnson, another Dentons attorney and an instructor at the KU School of Law, is serving as lead counsel for the plaintiffs.