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Voters file federal lawsuit against Kobach over citizenship rule, purge of registration lists


TOPEKA, Kansas — Two young northeast Kansas residents filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to prevent the state from requiring them to document their U.S. citizenship and to keep election officials from removing their names and thousands of others from registration rolls.

The lawsuit against Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of the proof-of-citizenship requirement, argues that it and the planned removal starting Friday of 30,000 names from voter registration rolls violates both federal law and prospective voters' constitutional right to due legal process.

The lawsuit seeks a court order blocking the state from enforcing the proof-of-citizenship requirement and purging its voter registration rolls as planned to remove those with incomplete registrations.

Kobach called the lawsuit "a publicity stunt." One of the attorneys representing the prospective voters is former Kansas House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Davis, last year's unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor.

"It's going nowhere in court," Kobach, a Republican, said in an interview. "It's part of an effort by Paul Davis to remain politically relevant."

Davis, who as a legislator voted for the final version of the measure, said the lawsuit was filed because it is "imperative" that Kansas residents' fundamental right to vote be protected. Also, he said, federal voter laws do not allow the state to purge voter registration rolls.

As for Kobach's description of the lawsuit as a publicity stunt, Davis said, "We'll see what the judge has to say about that."

A 2013 state law requires prospective voters to provide a birth certificate, passport or other papers documenting their U.S. citizenship when registering in Kansas for the first time.

Kobach championed the requirement as a measure that would prevent non-citizens from voting, particularly immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Critics contend the requirement suppresses turnout.

Since the requirement took effect, the number of people with incomplete registrations has ballooned, reaching nearly 36,700 earlier this week, with about 32,000 of them failing to comply with the proof-of-citizenship rule. Previous analyses have shown that more than half of the prospective voters list no party affiliation, and more than 40 percent are under the age of 30.

Kobach enacted a new administrative rule requiring county election officials to remove from their voter rolls anyone whose registration has been incomplete for more than 90 days. The rule takes effect Friday, and Kobach said he expects all such names — more than 30,000 in all — to be removed within a few days.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Alder Cromwell and Cody Keener. According to voter registration records, Cromwell is an 18-year-old Lawrence resident who sought to register as an unaffiliated voter and Keener is a 21-year-old Democrat from Eudora. The lawsuit says Cromwell first sought to register in March and Keener, in December 2014.

Joining Davis in representing them is Will Lawrence, formerly a staffer for Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat. Hensley said Kobach's push to remove thousands of names from registration rolls is "a disgrace."

"The job of the chief election officer should be to encourage people to vote, not to throw obstacles in their way," Hensley said.

But Kobach said prospective voters whose registrations are removed can simply apply again and, "it takes less than a minute."

"It's ridiculous to claim that a person is purged from voting when they've never been a registered voter," Kobach said.

Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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