Judge strikes blow to Kansas' voter ID requirements

Voters line up outside the Johnson County election office in Olathe, Kansas, in the 2012 November elections.

Story highlights

  • About 18,000 people will be re-registered to vote
  • Kansas will appeal ruling, says spokesman for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobac

(CNN)Kansas cannot require voters to prove their citizenship when registering to vote, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Julie A. Robinson decided Tuesday that part of Kansas' voter ID law likely violates a provision in the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which says states may only require voters provide the "minimum amount of information necessary" to assess whether or not someone is eligible to vote.
    Robinson ordered that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach re-register about 18,000 voters who registered at a department of motor vehicles office but did not provide the identification required by Kansas law.
    Some plaintiffs in the case contended that when they registered to vote at the motor vehicles facility, they were not asked for identification and were told they had successfully registered, only to find out later they needed to prove their identity.
    The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing some of the plaintiffs, praised the ruling.
    "This ruling lifts the barrier that the state illegally imposed on Kansans who were trying to register to vote," said Dale Ho, the director of the Voting Rights Project at the ACLU. "It means thousands of people who could have been sidelined during the upcoming primary and general election will be able to participate."
    The preliminary injunction won't go into effect until May 31 so that the defense has a chance to appeal. Kobach does plan to appeal, a spokesman for his office, Craig McCullah, said Wednesday morning.
    Kansas passed the Secure and Fair Elections Act in 2011, which requires voters to submit documentary proof of citizenship when they apply to vote. Voters can submit 13 types of documents or have their case heard before the state election board.
    Robinson said that plaintiffs made a strong case that there is a less burdensome way to prove citizenship -- signing a document that says one is a citizen under penalty of perjury.
    "Although the Court is cognizant that the injunction will cause some administrative burden to the State, it is a burden that is outweighed by the risk of thousands of otherwise eligible voters being disenfranchised in upcoming federal elections," Robinson said.
    Kansas is one of several states that have enacted laws requiring voters to prove their citizenship. Nine other states have "strict" photo identification voter laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
    Supporters of these measures, which are in large part Republican-sponsored, say they help prevent voter fraud. Opponents say that voter fraud is a nearly nonexistent problem, and that the law makes it harder for people without identification -- which tend to be the elderly and immigrants, constituencies that lean Democratic -- harder to vote.
    Kobach has successfully prosecuted four voter fraud cases since 2015, when the state legislature granted him the authority to do so, according to a news release from his office.