TOPEKA, Kan. — A Kansas judge who had ordered the state to count the local and state primary election votes in of some people who had not provided documents proving their citizenship said on Wednesday that his previous ruling remains in effect for the November general election.
Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks heard arguments Wednesday over whether he should make permanent the temporary ruling that required Kansas to count those primary votes, but did not make a ruling from the bench.
Dueling lawyers for the state of Kansas and the American Civil Liberties Union had interpreted Hendricks’ ruling differently, creating confusion.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who wants to toss the votes of those who have not proven their citizenship, told reporters after the hearing that the judge’s previous ruling only applied to the primary election, and he was awaiting a decision on whether it would apply to the November election. The ACLU lawyers said it did apply to November.
After the hearing, The Associated Press asked Hendricks to clarify, and the judge said his earlier order stands until he issues a new decision. Hendricks had said previously that he feels strongly about protecting the right to vote.
“I hope he issues a permanent injunction, but if he doesn’t decide, the temporary injunction insures those votes are counted,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s voting rights project, which sued Kansas over the citizenship requirement.
The lawsuit was on behalf of three prospective voters who registered while getting their driver’s licenses without providing proof of U.S. citizenship. ACLU lawyers argued on Wednesday that all voters who registered this way should have their votes counted even if they didn’t provide the citizenship documents. Kansas is one of four states that have passed laws requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote.
Federal courts had previously ordered Kansas in a separate case to count those votes in federal elections, but Kobach proceeded to try to set up a two-tier voting system that would count the votes in federal elections but not in state or local races.
Kansas says that 18,611 people registered to vote by Sept. 1 at motor vehicle offices without providing citizenship papers. About 50,000 could be affected by the time of the November election.
In a third lawsuit on Kansas voting laws, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia blocked Kansas, Georgia and Alabama from requiring residents to prove they are U.S. citizens when registering to vote for federal elections using a national registration form.
Hendricks’ decision in the ACLU will cover both those categories of voters — those who registered at motor vehicles offices and those who used a federal form— and did not provide proof of citizenship.
In a further complication, Kansas residents who did not register in those two ways will still have to provide citizenship documents to register to vote. The League of Women Voters said Tuesday that as of August Kansas had purged the registrations of about 6,570 prospective voters who had registered other than at the motor vehicle offices, most of them for not providing the citizenship documents within 90 days.
Kobach, a conservative Republican, has championed the proof-of-citizenship requirement as a way to prevent fraud by people in the country illegally. Critics contend such fraud is rare. They also say the requirement suppresses turnout because eligible citizens may not be able to immediately provide documentation such as a passport, birth certificate or naturalization papers.