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Judge Strikes Down Kansas' Proof-Of-Citizenship Voting Law


Kansas can no longer require people to show citizenship papers in order to register to vote. A federal judge struck down that Kansas law yesterday. She also had a message for the law's architect. That would be Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped lead a White House panel on voter fraud last year. Reporter Celia Llopis-Jepsen from the Kansas News Service joins me now to talk about this ruling. Hey, Celia.


KELLY: So what reasoning did this district court judge give?

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: The court found Kansas' law unconstitutional and in violation of the National Voter Registration Act. Now, that federal law says you have to make it convenient for people to register to vote, and you prove you're a U.S. citizen basically by swearing under penalty of perjury. You face, you know, potential fines, prison, deportation, if you're lying. To go beyond that, Judge Julie Robinson said that Kansas' secretary of state, Kobach, would need to prove his claims that he really has to do this because there's widespread voter fraud that he's trying to stop. And the court says that he couldn't do that.

KELLY: In fact, the judge, I gather, had quite a pointed message for Secretary Kobach. Tell us about that.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: That's right. Judge Robinson basically slapped him on the wrist and told him, you know, a former law professor, to get extra legal training and evidence rules. She found him in contempt in April for violating a court order related to this case. And yesterday, she told him personally to get extra legal training on civil procedure. During the trial, he and his team had been running afoul of evidence rules several times a day.

KELLY: Now, of course, the backdrop is that Kansas and everywhere else has elections looming in November. What might be the consequences of this ruling?

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Well, Kobach is going to appeal. But the voter registration deadline is coming up in about a month in Kansas. We have an August primary. And he won't be able to enforce his law. And in fact, he has a tight deadline to show he's complying with the court, telling voters in Kansas how to register to vote, that they can vote even without those passports and birth certificates. He's also on the ballot himself running for governor. So it may seem pretty embarrassing, but his message to his voters is going to be the same as before. I'm the guy fighting against voter fraud. And that seems to appeal to his base. So he's counting on them to turn out for the primary.

KELLY: Now, you said he's appealing. If this ruling stands and is not overturned, are there implications here outside Kansas for other states?

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Yeah. This ruling means that Arizona is the only state now that's requiring people to dig up documents like passports to show that they're U.S. citizens to register to vote. But Kobach had wanted the White House and Congress to push more states in that direction with changes to federal law. Kobach's critics, the ACLU who had sued him, they're feeling pretty confident that this ruling will dissuade states from going that direction. And they're feeling emboldened, and, in fact, they filed a new lawsuit against him today related to more of his voter fraud work.

KELLY: All right. Celia Llopis-Jepsen of the Kansas News Service, thanks so much.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Celia comes to the Kansas News Service after five years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. She brings in-depth experience covering schools and education policy in Kansas as well as news at the Statehouse. In the last year she has been diving into data reporting. At the Kansas News Service she will also be producing more radio, a medium she’s been yearning to return to since graduating from Columbia University with a master’s in journalism.
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