WICHITA, Kan. — Thousands of prospective voters who did not provide citizenship documents will be able to cast traditional ballots in the November election in Kansas, rather than being forced to use provisional ones, under a deal brokered Thursday that halted contempt proceedings against the state’s top election official.
U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson canceled a contempt hearing scheduled for Friday after Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach agreed to concessions that will fully register and clearly notify people who registered at motor vehicle offices without providing proof of citizenship that they can vote. Their names would be listed as registered on the state’s website and in separate poll books kept at election sites.
Robinson on Monday ordered Kobach to show why he should not be held in contempt for allegedly violating her May injunction. That temporary injunction required Kobach to add to voter rolls people who register when they get their driver’s licenses.
The deal between Kobach and the American Civil Liberties Union would allow roughly 20,000 people who have registered so far without citizenship documents to cast a regular ballot, instead of a provisional one — a number the state expects to grow to 50,000 voters by election time. The ACLU said the agreement would also apply to people who registered using a federal form.
The use of provisional ballots during Kansas’ August primary for those covered by Robinson’s injunction and other court decisions had raised concerns about ballot secrecy. Provisional ballots are placed in envelopes that show the voter’s name, even though election officials are not supposed to look at the ballot itself when the envelope is opened. Provisional ballots also are not counted until days after the election.
“This is not perfect, but it is a massive improvement from the August primary,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a news release, referring to the Kobach and ACLU agreement.
Robinson directed Kobach and the ACLU to inform the court by Oct. 12 of compliance with the deal.
“We are pleased that an interim agreement has been reached. The ACLU’s argument was weak at best,” Kobach said in an emailed statement. “However, at this point the preparations for the November 8, 2016, general election must proceed with rules established to ensure the efficient administration of the election.”
Kobach contended in the court filing that he remains in compliance with the court’s preliminary order regardless of how the database of voters is managed.
The ACLU agreed to allow Kansas to retain a separate coding system to identify the covered voters in its computer system. Kobach wants to be able to identify them so he could later purge them from voter rolls if an appeals court overturns Robinson’s order.
The ACLU told the court that the deal it reached with Kobach is sufficient for the general election.
“Our case is ongoing, but this interim agreement is a critical victory for Kansans who want to vote in the November election,” ACLU attorney Orion Danjuma said in a news release. “It is a shame that voters had to fight so hard to get Kris Kobach to do his job.”
Associated Press writer John Hanna contributed to this story from Topeka, Kansas.