Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) began his federal court defense of a state law requiring people prove citizenship when they register to vote, but his first witnesses failed to make a compelling case.
Kobach, who claims nothing short of requiring proof of citizenship can prevent noncitizens from voting, presented two experts whose conclusions were challenged, and a voter who explained how she managed to overcome the voter registration requirement without documents.
The ACLU is suing Kobach over the 2013 law, saying it’s unnecessary and has blocked at least 35,000 people from voting. The ACLU finished its case on Monday, giving Kobach the opportunity to defend the law, which a federal judge blocked in 2016 pending the outcome of the trial. Kobach, who is representing himself in the case, claims as many as 18,000 noncitizens are on Kansas voting rolls, and proof of citizenship can prevent that from happening.
Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, testified he saw no statistically significant difference in voter registration from 2010, before the law, to 2014, after it took effect on Jan. 1, 2013, according to The Wichita Eagle.
An ACLU witness pointed out last week that Camarota’s analysis assumed the only thing that changed from 2010 to 2014 was the proof of citizenship law, and failed to account for such variables as the competitiveness of Kansas elections in that time, according to KCUR.
Camarota said he didn’t need to control for other factors in his analysis, Talking Points Memo reported.
Jesse Richman, a political science professor at Old Dominion University began testifying at the end of the day Monday, but his testimony was quickly derailed when the ACLU objected he was presenting data not included in his report, according to Talking Points Memo.
Richman’s testimony prompted a scolding from U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson, KCUR reported. The professor continued speaking over the judge, arguing his new numbers should be included. But Robinson, who has rarely lost her patience during the trial, snapped at him, according to ProPublica. The judge earlier in the trial reprimanded Kobach and his legal team for failing to follow evidence procedures.
Richman’s testimony continues on Tuesday.
A perplexing moment on Monday came when Kobach called Jo French, a retiree in her mid 70s, to the witness stand. French is one of six people since 2013 who lack a birth certificate or other citizenship documents, but have been approved by the state election board to register to vote. Kobach hoped to show how easy it was for people to be approved to vote even without documents.
But French testified there was a burdensome process, even before she could get a hearing with the state election board, according to Talking Points Memo.
She said she was blocked from registering to vote when she went to get a Kansas driver’s license in 2016. She was born in Arkansas, and paid $8 in an unsuccessful effort to get her birth certificate, which she knew the state wouldn’t have because she was born at home and tried to get it before. She eventually got a copy of her family Bible, baptismal records and high school records.
After hunting down the records, French said she got someone to drive her 40 minutes to a hearing in Topeka with the election board.
Though she said she supports the proof of citizenship law, she said she was insulted that no one believed she was a citizen.
She also said she had become friends with Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker, and agreed to appear in court to make Kobach look good.
Kobach and his lawyers have repeatedly claimed during the trial that it’s easy for anyone to make their case to his office and the state election board that they could be registered.
Donna Bucci testified last week for the ACLU as another example. She was blocked from registering because she doesn’t have a birth certificate, but was told to call the Secretary of State’s office during her lunch break to schedule a hearing. Bucci said she works from 3 a.m. until noon as a prison cook and can’t even use a cell phone inside.
Kansas Gov. Jeff Coyler (R), who is running against Kobach in the GOP primary for governor, and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, both declined to say Monday whether they still had confidence in Kobach’s ability to defend the law.
“The secretary of state requested to represent himself in this and related cases. For any comment, I refer you to the secretary of state’s office,” Jennifer Montgomery, a Schmidt spokeswoman, said in an email.