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ACLU: Kobach Is Still Giving Out Incorrect Information About Voter Registration

The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday requested that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) and other Kansas election officials correct misleading information on their websites saying residents need to prove their citizenship when they register to vote.

The ACLU is currently suing Kobach on behalf of the Kansas League of Women Voters and five Kansas voters who were blocked from registering to vote at the DMV because the state couldn’t verify their citizenship. In a Thursday letter, the ACLU said Kobach’s own website and those of several counties did not reflect a 2016 ruling from a federal judge in their case blocking the state from enforcing the proof of citizenship requirement.

Because of the ruling, the state can require people to prove their citizenship when they register using a state voter registration form, but not when people go to register to vote at the DMV and register using a federal form. Other court rulings, including one in 2013 from the U.S. Supreme Court, have said that states can’t ask people who use the federal form to register to vote to prove their citizenship when they use the federal form.

In a letter, the ACLU asked Kobach, Kansas’ chief election official, to correct information on his website that gave the incorrect impression that everyone, regardless of how they register to vote, must to prove they’re a citizen. A section of his website called “A guide to voting in Kansas” says: “If you are registering for the first time in Kansas, you must submit a document proving you are a U.S. citizen. Birth certificates, passports, naturalization documents, military records and other documents are acceptable.” 

A guide to voting posted on the Kansas Secretary of State's website suggests that all people need to prove their citizenship

The ACLU also pointed to a guide to voter registration drives posted on Kobach’s website that says “when registering to vote for the first time in Kansas, a person must submit proof of U.S. citizenship along with the voter registration application.”

A Kansas Secretary of State guide for voter registration drives doesn't clarify that people using the federal form to registe

Moriah Day, a Kobach spokesman, did not immediately return a request for comment.

At the time of the 2016 ruling, roughly 18,000 people had been blocked from voting because of the proof of citizenship requirement. The ACLU has been accusing Kobach of refusing to fully comply with the 2016 order and not making a good-faith effort to ensure that people previously blocked from voting understand they are fully eligible. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson held Kobach in contempt of court in April for failing to fully inform voters of their eligibility (Kobach is currently appealing her ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals to the 10th Circuit.)

The ACLU also requested that Kobach write to county election officials and tell them to update their websites to reflect that people using the federal form to register do not need to provide proof of citizenship. The letter pointed to the websites of Douglas, Riley and Crawford counties, which all say people need to prove their citizenship in order to register to vote.

“There is a concern that Kobach has not done anything to ensure that counties know what they are required to do under the various court orders,” Sophia Lakin, a staff attorney at the ACLU wrote in an email. She added people could be dissuaded from voting because of incorrect information.

A section of the Riley County website that says first-time voters need to prove their citizenship. 

During a March contempt hearing in Kansas City, Kobach tried to downplay the influence he had over the local county election officials. He said he could only request that they do something, not compel them to. Robinson was skeptical, noting it was his duty to make sure the officials complied with the law and that her preliminary injunction blocking the proof of citizenship requirement was current law.

A trial in the case was spread out over three weeks in Kansas City in March. A ruling is expected later this year.

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