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ACLU challenges Kansas voter law requiring proof of citizenship

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tens of thousands of people in Kansas are being deprived of their right to vote, the American Civil Liberties Union argued in a lawsuit filed on Thursday that challenged a state law requiring residents to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote.

The suit is the latest to take direct aim at a 3-year-old measure ushered into law by Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach, who has lobbied heavily over the years for measures that he said were needed to prevent noncitizens from casting ballots.

The ACLU, arguing that fraud claims were unfounded, brought the class-action suit in federal court on behalf of six Kansas residents who said they were left off the voter rolls after registering at the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

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Passed by its Republican-dominated legislature five years ago, the law requires residents to show proof of citizenship when they register. The plaintiffs argue that the law violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, in particular a provision that requires states to allow people to register to vote when they get a driver’s license. That section says that registrants need only to sign a clause declaring they are citizens, under the threat of perjury if they lie.

The ACLU’s lawsuit argued that the Kansas law, in part, ran afoul of the act’s prohibition against states “requiring anything beyond ‘the minimum amount of information necessary’ ” to establish that someone is eligible to vote.

Kobach said the ACLU was misinterpreting federal law, which he said requires only that states accept voter registration applications at the Department of Motor Vehicles — not that those applications have to be confirmed at that time, he said.

He said it was only logical that registrations would not be confirmed during the driver’s license process because there are several things that motor vehicle officials cannot immediately verify when they take an application. For example, he said, they cannot tell if applicants have felony records, or if they were already registered in another county.

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Most of the controversy over voter identification laws around the country has focused on those that require voters to present identification when they arrive to vote. Kansas, however, is one of three states requiring proof of citizenship when residents register. The others are Georgia, Alabama and Arizona, said Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.