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Federal Trial For Kansas' Voter Registration Laws Set To Begin


Kansas has one of the strictest voter registration laws in the country. And that law is the subject of a trial that gets underway tomorrow in federal court. The state will have to prove that voter fraud is a real and widespread problem. From member station KCUR, Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports.

CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN, BYLINE: About a third of Americans who register to vote do it at the DMV.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Have you ever had a Kansas license before?

MADELINE FOX, BYLINE: Not a Kansas license. No.


LLOPIS-JEPSEN: My colleague, Madeline Fox, is new to Kansas and needed a driver's license.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And so you have your Social Security card?

FOX: I have my W-2.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: While she was at it, she registered to vote. Since 2013, Kansas' Secure and Fair Elections law requires Kansans to prove citizenship with papers like birth certificates or passports. While that was easy for Fox, the ACLU and others have tied up the law in state and federal courts, arguing that Kansas has illegally blocked tens of thousands of legitimate registrations. One way they're challenging it is with the 1993 federal Motor Voter Act. It says when you register to vote at the DMV, swearing that you're American is enough. Kris Kobach is Kansas secretary of state and says that's not a high bar, and that it allows noncitizens to vote. He didn't respond to multiple interview requests, but here he is recently on Fox News.


KRIS KOBACH: It does seem that many in the Democrat Party - hopefully not all - seem to think that it's OK if aliens vote. And, yeah, maybe they shouldn't be, but heck, it helps the Democrat Party anyway.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Kobach led President Trump's now-defunct Election Integrity Commission, and he's argued that millions of illegal ballots may have cost Trump the popular vote. Dale Ho, who's litigating the Kansas case for the ACLU, isn't buying it.

DALE HO: He's been talking for years about supposed hordes of noncitizen immigrants registering to vote and corrupting American elections, but he hasn't been able to show an iota of evidence.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: To win against the ACLU, the secretary of state will have to show the court that significant numbers of noncitizens are gaming the system. Kobach says at least 43 suspected noncitizens registered in Kansas since 2000 and that 11 voted. But the state has nearly 2 million people on its voter rolls, and a higher court has made it clear that the threshold will be high.

And Kris Kobach will have to prove that the only way to fix voter registration in Kansas is to require more documents. At a trial that could last more than a week, the secretary of state will present statistical estimates and other research that he argues point to much higher rates of fraud. Rick Hasen is a law professor at University of California, Irvine, and says a ruling in this trial could affect other states dealing with voter issues.

RICK HASEN: I'm glad that this is going to trial because we'll get yet another court to see this issue. And so far, the courts have said that noncitizen voting is a very small problem in this country.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Rick Hasen says ever since George Bush's narrow victory over Al Gore in 2000, both parties are more acutely tuned to issues of voter registration.

HASEN: And we've seen the emergence of what I call red state election law and blue state election law where states with Republican legislatures and governors have been passing laws that make it harder to register and to vote, states with Democratic governors and legislatures have been passing laws making it easier to register and vote.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Hasen says the thinking is the people who either get helped or hindered as they try to register are more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans. For NPR News, I'm Celia Llopis-Jepsen in Topeka.

KELLY: This story comes from the Kansas News Service by collaboration covering health, education and politics.

(SOUNDBITE OF JURASSIC 5 SONG, "LONG ROAD TO GLORY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

I'm the creator of the environmental podcast Up From Dust. I write about how the world is transforming around us, from topsoil loss and invasive species to climate change. My goal is to explain why these stories matter to Kansas, and to report on the farmers, ranchers, scientists and other engaged people working to make Kansas more resilient. Email me at celia@kcur.org.
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