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ACLU Sues Kansas Over Voter Registration Rules

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (CN) - A federal class action seeks to remove qualified Kansas voters from a "suspense list" that bans them from voting for failure to provide proof of citizenship beyond a driver's license.

Steven Fish, Ralph Ortiz, Donna Bucci, Charles Stricker, Thomas Boynton and Douglas Hutchinson sued Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Nick Jordan, Kansas Secretary of Revenue, in Kansas Federal Court on Thursday.

The class seeks an injunction and a court declaration that the state must register and allow "motor-voter" registrants with a driver's license as proof of citizenship to vote.

The lawsuit claims that "tens of thousands" of Kansas residents are being prevented from exercising their fundamental right to vote based on policies that violate the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

Nearly 14 percent of all new Kansas registrants have been "stymied" as a result of the documentation policy, according to the lawsuit.

The suing voters say that, since 2013, state officials acted to undermine the NVRA's accessible registration system by "illegally demanding that Kansans who attempt to register to vote while applying for or renewing a driver's license produce documents like a birth certificate or U.S. passport in order to become registered."

Over the last three years, Kansas placed more than 35,000 would-be voters on a "suspense list" until they can provide proof of citizenship documentation such as a birth certificate or passport, voters claim.

Around 22,000 of those potential voters remain in suspense or have been purged altogether from the registration system, solely for not submitting the required proof of citizenship, the 33-page complaint states.

Ortiz, 35, says he served in the U.S. military for 13 years but the state barred him from registering to vote due to its documentary proof-of-citizenship requirement.

"I joined the military to help protect American freedoms, yet now I'm being denied the most fundamental right in our democracy," Ortiz said in a statement issued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kansas.

Hutchinson, a 46-year-old U.S. citizen who has lived in Kansas his entire life, learned last year that he was on the suspense list, according to Thursday's lawsuit.

Even though Hutchinson later showed his U.S. passport to the Department of Motor Vehicles, he still remained on the suspense list for purported failure to provide documentary proof of citizenship, he claims.

The voters, who are represented by ACLU attorneys, claim Kansas has created a "needless, bureaucratic maze of barriers to registration" that has already deterred many Kansans from participating as voters, and has implemented these "disruptive measures in the face of directly contrary Supreme Court precedent."

"What's happening in Kansas is outrageous," Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. "Thousands of Kansans, including military veterans who have valiantly served our country, are blocked from voting by unnecessary bureaucratic roadblocks imposed by state officials. These shameful actions have made Kansas an epicenter of voter suppression. We say no more barriers. Let people vote."

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