February 18, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kansans trying to register to vote at their state Department of Motor Vehicles offices are illegally being forced to provide additional documentation of citizenship, according to a new lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. As a result, more than 30,000 potential voters have been blocked from voting because of this bureaucratic hurdle.

"What's happening in Kansas is outrageous," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. "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."

The latest obstacle involves a violation of the National Voter Registration Act, a federal law designed to make it easier for Americans to register to vote and maintain their registrations. To comply with the law, states have to provide people with an opportunity to register to vote when they apply for or renew their driver's licenses at the DMV. Instead, Kansans are being told they must present additional citizenship paperwork in order to become registered — or they're not being informed at all, only to find out later that they've been suspended from voting.

U.S. Air Force veteran and plaintiff Ralph Ortiz landed on the "suspended voter list" after registering to vote while renewing his driver's license at a DMV in Augusta, Kansas. A year after renewing his license, he received a letter informing him that he was suspended from voting and had to provide additional documentary proof of citizenship to complete the voter registration process.

"I joined the military to help protect American freedoms, yet now I'm being denied the most fundamental right in our democracy," said Ortiz.

The lawsuit, Fish v. Kobach, was filed in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City. It seeks an order requiring Kansas to immediately register thousands of Kansans who sought to register to vote at a DMV office, but who were denied due to their supposed failure to comply with the state’s citizenship documentation requirements. The case was brought by the ACLU, ACLU of Kansas, and Dechert LLP.

Kansas is at the center of several recent voting rights skirmishes. Most recently, the ACLU and other groups sued a federal elections official who unilaterally decided that residents of Kansas, Alabama, and Georgia could no longer register to vote using a federal form without providing proof of U.S. citizenship. And last month, a state court struck down Kansas' two-tiered voter registration system, ruling that Secretary of State Kris Kobach overstepped his legal authority by creating a system that prevents federal form registrants from voting in state and local elections. The ACLU challenged the dual system as well.

"Ordinary people who play by the rules and follow all necessary instructions still end up not being able to register to vote because of this bureaucratic maze," said Ho.

The complaint is at: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/fish-v-kobach-complaint

More information is at:https://www.aclu.org/cases/fish-v-kobach

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