After court ruling, Douglas County adding 850 voters to rolls

photo by: Nick Krug

This file photo shows the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Lawrence on Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said his office is working to activate the voter registrations of 850 local residents who attempted to register at a motor vehicle office but were blocked because they did not provide proof of U.S. citizenship.

But the action will enable those voters to cast ballots only in federal races during the upcoming Aug. 2 primaries, and it is not known how many of those voters are still living at the same addresses.

The only primaries in federal races affecting Douglas County are the Democratic and Republican primaries for U.S. Senate.

Incumbent Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican, faces a GOP challenge from DJ Smith, of Osawatomie. Two people, Monique Singh, of Kansas City, Kan., and Patrick Wiesner, of Lawrence, are seeking the Democratic nomination.

The move to activate those registrations is the result of a federal injunction last month that, pending a trial in the case, blocks the state from enforcing its proof of citizenship requirement for people who attempt to register through their local motor vehicle office.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson granted the injunction, saying that the plaintiffs in the case Fish v. Kobach are likely to prevail on the merits of the case, which argues that the state’s proof of citizenship law violates the federal 1992 National Voter Registration Act, or “motor voter” law, at least as it applies to voting in federal elections.

That suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Statewide, it is estimated that Robinson’s order will affect more than 18,000 would-be voters who attempted to register while obtaining or renewing their driver’s licenses but who were placed “in suspense” for failing to provide documentary proof of U.S. citizenship.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who championed the citizenship law in 2013, had asked the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put a hold on Robinson’s order. But on Friday, a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit declined to issue a stay.

“We were anticipating this would happen and were preparing for this,” Shew said Wednesday.

Shew said his office is now sending out notices to those voters affected by the order. If those voters no longer live at the address shown on their registration form, the notices will be returned to the county and those registrations will not be activated.

Since the proof of citizenship law took effect in January 2013, Shew said, 3,183 applicants have been placed in suspense for some period of time. Of those, Shew’s office has been able to resolve 2,035 cases.

Last fall, Kobach implemented a new regulation requiring county officials to cancel registrations that have been held in suspense longer than 90 days. But Judge Robinson’s order supersedes that regulation in cases of voters who attempted to register through motor vehicle offices.

As of Wednesday, Shew said, there were 336 other voter applications actively being held in suspense.

The case of Fish v. Kobach is just one of three active lawsuits challenging various aspects of the proof of citizenship law.

Another case pending in Shawnee County District Court, Belenky v. Kobach, could enable those voters being activated for federal races to cast ballots in state and local elections as well.

In that case, which was also brought by the ACLU, the plaintiffs are challenging Kobach’s authority to conduct a “dual election” system in which some voters — those who attempted to register using a federal mail-in form, which didn’t ask for proof of citizenship — may only vote in federal elections, while others may vote in all elections.

In January, Judge Frank Theis ruled against Kobach, saying the secretary of state has no legal authority to conduct a dual election system.

But on Jan. 29, the day after Theis issued that ruling, Brian Newby, a close political associate of Kobach’s who is now executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, unilaterally granted Kobach’s request to revise the federal registration forms used in Kansas by adding a line asking applicants to show proof of citizenship.

After that, Kobach filed a motion for Theis to reconsider his earlier decision, and Theis so far has not acted on that motion.

Newby’s action is now the subject of yet another lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., by state and national chapters of the League of Women Voters challenging Newby’s authority to change the federal form without the approval of the three-member commission itself.

The judge in that case, Richard D. Leon, has not yet ruled on the plaintiffs’ request for a restraining order and injunction to void Newby’s changes to the federal forms used in Kansas.