Citizen participation is crucial to our democracy.
While the right to vote should be guaranteed to all eligible Americans, this fundamental constitutional right is constantly under attack. Since 2010, states have passed a string of new measures limiting the right to vote. These have included new identification and documentation requirements, cuts to early voting, and purges of voter rolls. Each of these attacks on voting rights disproportionately hurts people of color, students, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
The attacks on voting rights have been enabled by a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, where the justices struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act. The ruling prevented the federal government from providing meaningful oversight to state and local governments wanting to change their voting laws. Citing “progress” in the states, the Court opened the door for the creation of new restrictions on voting.
Kansas is the epicenter of this movement to undermine the right to vote. Secretary of State Kris Kobach has created many new restrictions on voting in Kansas, making it harder for eligible citizens to register to vote and to cast a ballot. Sec. Kobach convinced the Kansas Legislature to pass the nation’s most restrictive voter registration requirement. That “papers please” requirement forced eligible citizens to produce a birth certificate, passport, or similar document in order to register. Tens of thousands of Kansans either struggle to find those documents or simply do not have them. Since they cannot produce a piece of paper, they are prevented from registering and are disenfranchised. Just three other states have a similar requirement; all adopted it after being prompted by Sec. Kobach, and none of these other states enforces it as harshly as Kansas does.
In June 2018, a federal district court struck down these illegal voter restrictions related to citizenship documents in Fish v. Kobach, a lawsuit brought by the ACLU.
Additionally, Sec. Kobach has tried to stop eligible citizens who use federally-issued voter registration forms or who register to vote at motor vehicle offices from voting in state and local elections. He has argued that those eligible citizens should only be allowed to vote in federal elections—not state and local ones, like for governor or the state legislature—even though a judge has ruled that the Secretary of State does not have the authority to set up such a system.
The result of all of these attacks on voting rights has been catastrophe and chaos for thousands of eligible Kansas voters, whose registrations were not completed because they didn’t meet the requirements. Not only is the new system confusing and inconvenient, but for many groups – students, elderly people, and the poor – who don’t have the acceptable forms of ID, it has nullified their rightful voice in the electoral process.
What are we doing about it?
The ACLU of Kansas has led the charge against the unnecessary, illegal, and undemocratic attack on the right to vote. We have brought multiple lawsuits against the Secretary of State. In one suit, we won a state court judgment that Sec. Kobach’s “dual voter roll,” which prevented some eligible voters from voting in state and local elections, was illegal and outside of his authority. Another suit, where we are challenging one of the state’s documentation requirements as illegal under federal law, is pending in federal court. Even as we wait for a verdict, the federal court judge issued an injunction stopping the state from enforcing the requirement during the 2016 elections. Read more about our voting rights cases.
The ACLU of Kansas is leading the way in pushing for the legislative repeal of the restrictions created by Sec. Kobach. At the same time, we are organizing Kansans to push for greater access to the ballot instead of more restrictions. Through our Let Kansas Vote! Campaign, we are working with allies to bring election day registration—a proven tool for boosting voter turnout and civic engagement—to Kansas. Read more about our Let Kansas Vote! campaign.