Appeals arguments begin on Kansas law requiring voters to prove citizenship

DENVER An effort by the state of Kansas to reinstate rules requiring people to present proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote at motor vehicle department offices is set to be heard by a federal appeals court in Denver on Tuesday.

The requirement, which left thousands of Kansans who thought they had registered while obtaining driver’s licenses ineligible to vote, was struck down earlier this year by a U.S. District Court judge in Kansas City.

Kansas’ law mandating that people present a birth certificate, passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote, is one of the strictest such statutes in the nation. It has made Kansas a symbol of a new wave of restrictive voting laws that supporters, mostly Republicans, say are meant to prevent voter fraud. Opponents, mostly Democrats, say they discriminate against minorities.

Last month, a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled that voters who do not have photo identification will be able to vote in the Nov. 8 presidential election, and the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a North Carolina law requiring voters to bring a photo ID to the polls.

Oral arguments are set to begin ON Tuesday before the Denver-based U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Kansas case, filed in February by the American Civil Liberties Union. The case specifically targets a portion of that state’s law that deals with people who register to vote at motor vehicle department offices.

The ACLU argued that the requirement conflicts with a federal law from 1993 aimed at making it easier for people to register to vote by doing so when they apply for a driver’s license.

Because that law does not require people to bring more documentation than they would need to get a driver’s license, U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson ruled that about 18,000 people whose registration had been invalidated by the state should be re-registered.

In its appellate brief, the ACLU argued that the 1993 federal law, officially called the National Voter Registration Act, which was designed to boost voter participation by allowing people to register to vote while applying for or renewing their driver’s licenses, trumps the Kansas law.

“The (federal) statute does not authorize any other method of determining the eligibility of motor-vehicle registrants at the time of application,” the brief said.

But Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach asserted in court filings that the federal law does not prohibit states from seeking proof of citizenship.

(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Bill Rigby)

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