KANSAS CITY, Kan. (CN) – Day two of the bench trial over Kansas voter ID law resembled day one, with a federal judge admonishing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and his legal team over matters of evidence.
In Fish v. Kobach, the ACLU contends the Safe and Fair Elections Act (SAFE) violates the National Voter Registration Act and places an unnecessary burden on voters by requiring them to show citizenship documents such as birth certificates or passports in order to register to vote. Kobach says the law is necessary in order to prevent noncitizens from voting.
Kobach attorney Sue Becker started the day by asking U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson if Kobach’s 45-minute video deposition could be read aloud as a transcript rather than played in the courtroom. She said the state only found out Tuesday that the ACLU planned to play the video and that playing it would be a waste of time.
“If they read it aloud, it will be 45 minutes as well,” Robinson said.
Robinson, who had already accepted the video, agreed to push back the viewing to Thursday to allow the state time to review it, but denied Becker’s request to have it read to the court.
“It’s a video deposition,” Robinson said. “Video depositions are played and not read.”
Becker then tried to argue the video shouldn’t be played because Kobach representing himself in the case. Robinson quickly shut that argument down.
The ACLU’s witnesses Wednesday included Marge Ahrens, 76, a retired social worker and former co-president of the Kansas League of Women Voters.
Ahrens said the SAFE Act increased the time and effort it takes to register people in voter registration drives, adding that the proof of citizenship requirement turned a 3- to 4-minute process into an hour-long effort.
Ahrens said one local chapter had a 90 percent decrease in voter registrations after the law took effect.
“It was a dead hit,” Ahrens said of the SAFE Act. “We stopped registering voters. It was just that pure and simple.”
The organization often visited high schools and colleges to help register first-time voters, but often went away up empty-handed.
“The high school students I think would be the least willing to go ask mom and dad for a birth certificate,” Ahrens said.
She added that a lot of the group’s resources went toward thousands of hours calling people on the voter suspension list in order to help them complete their registrations, time that would have otherwise been spent in other areas such as educating the public on Kansas public school financing.
On cross-examination, Becker challenged Ahrens’ assertion that the Kansas law made it more difficult to register young voters.
“If a 16-year-old gets their birth certificate to get their driver’s license, is there any reason why they can’t when it’s time for them to vote?” Becker asked.
Ahrens pushed back, saying that not all high school kids drive, especially the poorer kids who can’t afford a car.
Robinson had to stop Becker during questioning when Becker attempted to reference material that hadn’t been introduced as evidence. When Becker said she was just going to read the document, Robinson stopped her again.
“I’m not going to let you just read the contents into the record,” Robinson said.
On Tuesday, Robinson admonished Kobach and his team for trying to enter evidence less than 24 hours before the trial began, telling them that the rules were “Evidence 101.”
Lead plaintiff Wayne Fish also took the stand Wednesday. Fish said he was born on a military base in Illinois that is now closed and did not have a birth certificate when he tried to register to vote in 2014.
Fish testified that he searched through his family’s storage for his birth certificate after his mother died but was unable to locate it in time.
The trial will continue Thursday, with Kobach’s video deposition expected to play.
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