Late Thursday, a federal judge in Kansas unsealed two documents that show how Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach hoped to make it easier for states to require proof of citizenship for voter registration — a policy that research has shown represses minority voters — and how Kobach advised the incoming Trump administration on the potential changes.
Both documents show amendments Kobach hoped to make to the federal National Voting Rights Act, or NVRA, which says states can only require “the minimum amount of information necessary” to prove citizenship. In 2011, Kobach introduced a law that requires residents to provide proof of citizenship in order to complete a voter registration. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Kobach over the Kansas law, which it says violates the NVRA’s “minimum amount” requirement.
Kobach fought a long battle to keep from handing over the documents in that court case. After a federal judge forced him to hand over the documents, Kobach fought for months to keep them under seal. The new order, signed by judge Julie A. Robinson, finally made the documents public Thursday evening.
The ACLU successfully argued that the documents are relevant to its voting rights case because Kobach’s proposed NVRA changes could show that he does not believe Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship requirement is in line with current federal law.
“Sec. Kobach has been asserting that the NVRA allows him to implement this unconstitutional, illegal voting rights restriction,” Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties of Kansas, told ThinkProgress in an email in April. “Yet, [Kobach] appears to be lobbying to have the law changed. That implies that he recognizes that his implementation scheme is not actually consistent with the current law.”
One of the documents is draft of a possible future NVRA amendment that Kobach shared with his staff, while the other is a list of priorities for the Department of Homeland Security that Kobach was photographed holding before a meeting with then President-elect Donald Trump in November, when Kobach was considered a front-runner for Homeland Security secretary.
The changes are narrowly focused on allowing states to require that people show documentary proof of citizenship — like a birth certificate, a passport, or other government-issued identification — before registering to vote in a local, state, or federal election.
One of the documents, titled “Department of Homeland Security / Kobach Strategic Plan for First 365 Days,” is heavily redacted. The one-page document has 23 points divided among five categories. Only the name of the last category and the text of the last point are visible. The third point under the heading “Stop Aliens from Voting” says, “Draft Amendments to the National Voter Registration Act to promote proof-of-citizenship requirements.”
The other document, titled simply “Amendments to the National Voter Registration Act,” is an early draft of five amendments, two of which are redacted. “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent a state from requiring proof of citizenship from any applicant,” one of the amendments reads. Another loosens the contentious “minimum amount of information” standard to simply “any information that a State deem necessary.”
Courts have blocked Kansas’s proof-of-citizenship law pending the outcome of several court challenges. In the meantime, Kobach is once again considered a leading candidate to head the Homeland Security department, after Gen. John Kelly stepped aside in July to become White House chief of staff.