Why 20,000 more Kansans can vote this November

A District Court judge has upheld a previous ruling that Kansans should not be required to show proof of citizenship in order to vote. The change means at least 20,000 more Kansans will be added to the voter rolls. 

David Zalubowski/AP/File
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach responds to questions outside the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in August. A federal appeals court says "no constitutional doubt arises" that federal law prohibits Kansas from requiring citizenship documents from people who register to vote at motor vehicle offices. The ruling handed down late Friday upholds U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson's temporary order forcing Kansas to register more than 20,000 voters.

It’s official: following several judicial rulings and a court case brought by the ACLU, around 20,000 more Kansas voters can go to the polls this November. That number could be as high as 50,000 by Election Day.

Thousands of voters who did not show citizenship documents when they registered to vote have been removed from the “suspended list” and will be given full rights to vote in the election. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach reached the agreement with the ACLU on Thursday, saying that he would register the voters and make sure they knew that they were eligible to vote.

On Friday, a ruling from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals formally struck down the law, which it described as unconstitutional. There is “no constitutional doubt,” the court ruled, that Kansas cannot require citizenship documents from people who register to vote at a motor vehicle office.

Voting rights advocates consider the ruling a step forward, allowing thousands more Kansans to have their say on Election Day. But Secretary Kobach and others say they’re focused on preventing voter fraud perpetrated by undocumented immigrants. How can concerns about fraud be addressed while protecting the rights of voters?

“Give us your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” said Kobach. “We simply ask that they come through a port of entry and follow our laws.”

Non-citizens are allowed to vote in certain state and local elections, but have been prohibited from voting at the federal level since 1996. There are some exceptions: Non-citizens whose parents are citizens of the US and those who have been permanent residents since before the age of 16 are also eligible to vote. A non-citizen who votes illegally may be fined or imprisoned.

Concerns about fraud have led to the implementation of voter ID laws in many states. These laws require voters to show ID – in some cases, photo ID – when they vote. More stringent laws seem justified in light of recent discoveries of fraud in Colorado, where local reporters discovered that voters were were dead had somehow been casting ballots. In one case, a woman who died in 2009 had ballots cast in her name in four subsequent elections.

But critics say efforts to combat fraud tend to undermine the rights of legitimate voters. In Kansas, one plaintiff in the ACLU case was Melvin L. Brown, a World War II veteran who had not been required to show ID when he first registered to vote. Until the legislation backed by Kobach was stricken down on Friday, he would have had to produce ID to get himself off the “suspended list.”

Voter ID laws have also been declared unconstitutional in some states because they may disproportionately affect certain constituencies: the elderly, the poor, and minority voters. A 4th Circuit ruling upheld by the Supreme Court found that, in North Carolina, ID requirements “target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” because they often do not have the necessary documents.

A single incidence of fraud may be too small to have a meaningful impact on the outcome of the election, but the need to balance concerns about fraud with ensuring access for all eligible voters suggests that bipartisan efforts to address this dichotomy might be fruitful.

Speaking about fraud in Colorado, Donathan Brown, associate professor and chair of the Diversity Scholars Program at Ithaca College, told The Christian Science Monitor’s Weston Williams:

“The data would indicate that [fradulent voting] represents far less than 0.01% of votes cast, assuming of course, that the investigation holds, and that all 78 voters deceased voters remained on the roll,” says Brown. “I do not think this weakens any case set forth by Democrats or strengthens any case by Republicans, but instead should bring both parties together to discuss process and procedures regrading voter rolls."

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