Voting rights advocates across the country celebrated a momentous victory last month when a federal judge struck down a Kansas statute requiring documentary proof of U.S. citizenship to register to vote. The ability to participate in American elections is the foundation of our democratic institutions, but the passage of the Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) Act in 2013 has blocked thousands of Kansans from registering to vote through the DMV or other means.
The League of Women Voters of Kansas joined as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, contesting the legality of the Documentary Proof of Citizenship (DPOC) law and arguing that the requirements unfairly restricted U.S citizens from voting. For fellow plaintiff Wayne Fish, who did not have access to his birth certificate, and whose limited income prevented him from obtaining a passport, the law precluded him from participating in the 2014 election. Fish’s story is not unique. He represents the thousands of Kansans whose inability to procure proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, prevented them from exercising their civic duty.
The League of Women Voters of Kansas has been on the forefront of the fight against this discriminatory law for years. Through advocacy, as well as voter information and registration efforts, they have championed the rights of Kansas voters across the state. In 2015, the Kansas League testified against the expansion of the SAFE Act and has continued to fight anti-voter legislation on behalf of low income, minority, and young individuals who are often the targets of discriminatory voting laws.
Secretary Kobach has failed to provide substantial evidence of masses of noncitizens participating in elections. In 2014, Kobach joined Arizona to petition the U.S Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to change the Federal Voter Registration form to require proof of citizenship. Their request was denied by the EAC, who cited requiring documentary proof of citizenship as a violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and the 14th amendment. This reasoning was also the basis of the ruling against Kobach last month.
The June ruling reinstated the votes of some 25,000 Kansans ahead of the August 7 primary and, according to the Secretary of State’s office, there are no longer any Kansas registrations canceled for lack of citizenship documents. We remain optimistic that this lawsuit will serve as precedent for similar anti-voter legislation and set a national standard against requirements for documentary proof of citizenship. Making voter registration accessible to all Americans is just the first step towards creating a stronger and more representative democracy.
Thank you to the League of Women Voters of Kansas and voting rights allies for their advocacy on behalf of all voters.