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Federal Judge To Rule In Kansas Voter Registration Lawsuit

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In Kansas, you have to show proof of U.S. citizenship to vote. Secretary of State Kris Kobach tried to defend the requirements in court. His trial just ended. From member station KCUR, Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports.

CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN, BYLINE: Secretary Kobach is a key backer of President Donald Trump's claims that millions of illegal ballots won Hillary Clinton the 2016 popular vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What tangible evidence is there that that actually happened?

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: This is a reporter questioning Kobach in a Kansas City Star video.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KRIS KOBACH: Well, this is the problem with aliens voting and aliens registering. There's no way you can look on the voter rolls and say, this one's an alien; this one's a citizen.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: The demand that Kobach, who headed Trump's now-defunct voter fraud commission, show hard evidence was at the heart of a trial in Kansas over the past three weeks. And that video was played in court. Kobach has the names of at least 43 suspected noncitizens who registered over nearly two decades and 11 who voted. He put experts on the stand to show two things - that most Kansans have the documents they need to register and that thousands or tens of thousands of noncitizens got on Kansas voter rolls before 2013 when the state's proof of citizenship law took effect.

ACLU lawyers said Kobach is using unreliable math from sources with political agendas and methods widely regarded by academics as bogus. UC Irvine law professor Rick Hasen says this was a rocky trial for Kobach.

RICHARD HASEN: Much of what Kobach did antagonized the judge, in part not understanding the basic rules of evidence. And it really undermined his case wholly apart from the merits.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Judge Julie Robinson, a George W. Bush appointee, scolded Kobach day after day for trying to spring new evidence on the plaintiffs. During the trial, it also came out that Kobach wanted Trump in Congress to nudge more states to require documents proving citizenship. University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller says the outcome of this case could affect whether those laws spread.

PATRICK MILLER: No matter how much attention we're paying to Mr. Kobach or Trump or national politics, it's really about what signal this is sending to state legislatures about whether this is a law that they can afford to adopt.

LLOPIS-JEPSEN: Judge Robinson could take months to rule. She's also considering whether to hold Kobach in contempt for violating orders to treat 30,000 registrants he had blocked the same as other voters while the lawsuit proceeds. For NPR News, I'm Celia Llopis-Jepsen in Kansas City.

CHANG: That report is from the Kansas News Service, a collaboration covering education, health and politics. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Celia comes to the Kansas News Service after five years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. She brings in-depth experience covering schools and education policy in Kansas as well as news at the Statehouse. In the last year she has been diving into data reporting. At the Kansas News Service she will also be producing more radio, a medium she’s been yearning to return to since graduating from Columbia University with a master’s in journalism.
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