What a federal court ruling on voter rights means for Kansas

Photo illustration of "I Voted" stickers commonly seen at polling stations. (Archive Photo | Collegian Media Group)

A federal court decided earlier this month that Kansas’ proof of citizenship law is unconstitutional.

On June 18, Chief District Judge Julie Robinson ruled to strike down the Secure and Fair Elections Act of 2011, saying the law violates the National Voter Registration Act and the Fourteenth Amendment.

The law, put in place by Secretary of State Kris Kobach in 2011, required people registering to vote in Kansas to provide documentation proving their citizenship. The League of Women Voters of Kansas (LWVK), one of the plaintiffs in the case, said such requirements increased the time necessary to register an applicant from three to four minutes to an hour.

Now that the law was struck down, registration to vote is once again a brief affair.

“It takes five minutes or less, and it’s done” Christine Hutchins, member of the Johnson County chapter of the LWVK, told the Kansas City Star.

Since the ruling last Monday, 72 freshly naturalized citizens have registered to vote without being made to submit naturalization documents. Instead, they, and anyone else registering to vote, only needed to disclose their name and address.

Manuel Novas-Garcia, one of the newly registered voters, emigrated from Spain to study at Kansas State. He now teaches Spanish in the Blue Valley school district, USD 299.

“The motto of this country is ‘no taxation without representation,'” Novas-Garcia told the Kansas City Star. “I’ve been a taxpayer for six years, and it was time to join the club of voters.”

During the trial, Michael McDonald, professor at the University of Florida, said the former documented proof of citizenship requirement “disproportionately affects the young and those who are not politically affiliated,” as summarized by the court ruling.

McDonald’s testimony was corroborated by Marge Ahrens, former co-president of the LWVK, who said the law’s impact was “huge.”

“It was a dead hit,” Ahrens said.

Ahrens said LWVK volunteers struggled in the past to successfully register hundreds of young people to vote at high schools and universities because they did not have documented proof of citizenship readily at hand. For example, an attempt to register college students at Washburn University ended with only 75 successful registration attempts out of 400.

Hey, hi, hello! I’m Rachel Hogan, the copy chief for The Collegian. I’m a senior in journalism from Olathe, Kansas. When I’m not at work in the newsroom, I like to spend my time cuddling with my dog, working as a barista and laughing with my friends.