A federal judge has found Kansas’s chief elections official — Kris Kobach, a Republican who helped lead a much-criticized commission set up by President Trump to investigate supposed voter fraud — in contempt of court in a sharply worded ruling that said Kobach acted “disingenuously” and that ordered him to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees.
The order stems from a 2016 lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Kansas voters in federal court against a state voter ID law. The 2013 law required people to provide proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate, when they registered to vote for the first time. The ACLU argues that the law violates the federal National Voter Registration Act, which requires state DMVs to offer people the ability to register with only the “minimum amount of information necessary.”
U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson issued a preliminary injunction in 2016 blocking the law and asked that the registrations of some 18,000 people whose materials had been held be notified with a postcard confirming their registration and polling place, as other voters are in Kansas.
But the ACLU recently charged that many voters failed to receive the postcard; one man who was affected by the law and joined the lawsuit, Charles Stricker, testified that even after the injunction, he was told that the legal issues about the right of people like himself to vote were “up in the air.”
Robinson sided with the ACLU’s January motion to hold Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state, in contempt for the failures, as the court had ordered him previously to comply.
In her ruling, in which she said twice that Kobach acted “disingenuously,” Robinson wrote that she found “clear and convincing evidence” that he had disobeyed the preliminary injunction.
“Kansans have come to expect these postcards to confirm their registration status, and Defendant ensured the Court on the record that they had been sent prior to the 2016 general election,” Robinson wrote. “They were not, and the fact that he sent a different notice to those voters does not wholly remove the contempt.”
Robinson also wrote of evidence that Kobach “willfully failed to make sure that the county election officials were clearly and effectively trained to enforce” the voting rules enforced by the injunction.
“The official training manual for the counties continued to instruct that all voter registration applicants were required to submit DPOC [documented proof of citizenship] and his efforts to revise these instructions informally and in a piecemeal way led to confusion and misinformation.”
The ruling was another blow for Kobach, a Trump ally and candidate for governor of Kansas, who led the president’s “election integrity” panel that was dissolved earlier this year after bipartisan rebukes from states and multiple federal lawsuits. Kobach was also fined $1,000 in connection with the case because of what another federal judge termed a “pattern” of “misleading the Court” in voter ID cases.
Kobach spokesman Moriah Day said in a statement that the secretary of state declined to comment.
“The Secretary of State’s Office will be appealing this decision,” the statement said.
The preliminary injunction blocking the 2013 law will be in effect until the resolution of the trial in the case, which began in March.
According to the complaint ACLU filed with the court, some 22,000 Kansas voters were suspended or purged from the registration system because of the citizenship documentation requirement, stymieing nearly 14 percent of new registrants.
Two of Kobach’s witnesses have said that since 2000 Kansas has identified 127 people who are believed to be noncitizens when they registered or attempted to register, the ACLU said. The ACLU said that only 11 are believed to have actually cast a ballot.