Kobach’s plan to remove 36,000 suspended voters may be headed for class action

Lawrence attorneys who filed a federal lawsuit Sept. 30 attempting to overturn a state law restricting voter registration filed an amendment Tuesday to make the lawsuit a class action.

Earlier this year, Secretary of State Kris Kobach suspended the pending registrations of more than 36,000 would-be Kansas voters until they provide proof of citizenship.

The Sept. 30 lawsuit that asked for a preliminary injunction was filed by former Lawrence Rep. Paul Davis, an attorney, and William Lawrence, an attorney in Davis’ law firm.

The plaintiffs in that case are two Douglas County residents, Cody Keener and Alder Cromwell, who applied to register to vote in December and March.

The class action lawsuit if certified by a judge will include all 36,000 suspended voters as plaintiffs.

“The right to vote is an important right,” Lawrence said. “What has been going on in Kansas has been concerning. It is a case of high importance, and there are a lot of people interested in its outcome.”

Craig McCullah, Kobach’s spokesman, said Kobach’s office is still reviewing the complaint and had no further comment.

The amended class action complaint names Kobach and Jamie Shew, Douglas County clerk, as defendants.

The lawsuit is getting national attention because several states are now requiring proof of citizenship.

Public Interest Legal Foundation, a nonprofit agency from the Washington, D.C., area, already has filed a brief supporting Kobach, saying Kansas has taken the lead nationally to ensure that only U.S. citizens vote in Kansas elections.

The foundation said that its brief includes numerous examples of the federal government’s inability “to keep aliens off the voter rolls and out of the voting booth.”

“The (Kansas) lawsuit is another assault on Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and his efforts to ensure the integrity of Kansas elections,” a news release said.

A hearing on the preliminary injunction will be Dec. 4 in federal court in Kansas City, Kan.

In 2013, the Kansas Legislature passed the Secure and Fair Elections Act, which required proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, to register to vote. Kansas voters who did not provide the required documents or who had incomplete documents were marked “in suspense.”

This year, Kobach issued a rule that said “in suspense” voters had 90 days to provide the documentation or their application would be canceled.

On Dec. 22, Keener applied to register to vote while he was renewing his driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Because he too failed to submit documents proving his citizenship, his application was placed “in suspense.”

Cromwell, who is a student at Oregon State University, applied to register to vote on March 27 but did not submit the required documentation proving citizenship, according to court records. He received notification that his application had been designated “in suspense.”

But last week Kobach filed a motion that stated the lawsuit was moot in part because he had gone ahead and registered Cromwell and Keener, making them eligible to vote. He said he was able to do that by pulling their birth records from Kansas Vital Records. His office has not explained why that procedure is not followed for other would-be voters.

Lawrence said the class action filing is in part a response to Kobach’s attempt last week to disqualify the plaintiffs from suing and evade a ruling on the merits. He said it also was important that the 36,000 suspended voters be included in the lawsuit and not just Cromwell and Keener.

“We obviously still believe the court has jurisdiction to handle our clients’ case individually,” he said. “We also understand that the suspended voters need to be brought into this case. This impacts a lot of people.”