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Is Kansas illegally preventing people from voting? ACLU files suit.

A lawsuit brought against the state of Kansas by the American Civil Liberties Union asserts that identification requirements for Kansans registering to vote go beyond what the law allows. 

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    On Feb. 12, a coalition of voting rights groups sued a federal elections official who decided that residents of Alabama, Kansas and Georgia can no longer register to vote using a national form without providing proof of US citizenship. The 224-page complaint was filed in federal court. Also named in the suit is the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Several groups brought the suit. They include the League of Women Voters, Project Vote, the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and others.
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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the state of Kansas over a voter ID law that the civil rights organization says unlawfully prevents some of its citizens from voting.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, is the latest chapter in a long-running legal battle focused on a Kansas requirement for identification when registering to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that critics label as onerous, excessive, and illegal.

Kansas is just one of several states in which Republican-led legislatures have passed voter ID-laws, defending them as necessary steps to tackle voter fraud, but many Democrats argue they target voters, such as the young and minorities, that usually vote for the Democratic Party. Kansas's law takes the issue a step further than most states, by not only requiring that voters have a valid identification to vote, but that they also provide proof of citizenship when applying for identification.

“It’s a huge problem, and no other state has quite this situation” says the director of ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, Dale Ho, in a telephone interview with The Christian Science Monitor. “It breeds cynicism and distrust in government.”

However, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says the ACLU's suggestion that the law prohibits potential voters from registering is "entirely false."

Instead, “Kansas’s law, which was passed by a large majority, ensures that every person who registers to vote is a United States citizen,” he says in an e-mail to The Monitor.

There are other states that require voters to present identification, as Mr. Ho explains, such as Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia. However, in a case brought against Arizona in 2013, the US Supreme Court ruled that “an Arizona law requiring applicants to present documentary proof of citizenship as a condition for voter registration, is preempted by Congress's power to regulate federal elections.”

Current federal law demands only that a person registering to vote signs an oath, without requiring further proof of identity. The latest ACLU case asserts that what Kansas state demands of people seeking to register at the DMV often goes beyond this.

But the situation is more complex – federal law does not prohibit states from requiring further proof of identification in relation to state elections.

But, as Ho explains, a state court in Kansas itself ruled only last month against the two-tier system that has been created, separating voters into two groups because of differing requirements, depending on where they choose to register.

“One would have thought that would have been the end of the story,” says Ho.

When asked why he thinks Kansas is fighting so hard to impose these additional requirements, in a follow-up email, Ho wonders whether “it’s based on a misguided belief that disenfranchising tens of thousands of Kansans is somehow an appropriate response to a handful of cases of non-citizens accidentally ending up on the voter rolls.”

But Secretary Kobach is equally vehement in his dismissal of the ACLU assertions:

“The recent lawsuit filed by the ACLU is just another attempt to twist the words of federal law in order to achieve their political motives,” says Kobach. “[The Kansas] law has prevented numerous aliens from registering, and that ensures the integrity of our voter rolls.”

It is for the courts to determine which of these polar views is best supported by American law.

This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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