2 men end federal lawsuit over Kansas voter ID law

Voting (KSN File Photo)
Voting (KSN File Photo)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two elderly northeast Kansas men have dropped a lawsuit challenging a state law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, with a trial in federal court not set until next year.

Attorney Jim Lawing said Thursday that Arthur Spry and Charles Hamner asked to have the case dismissed because the case would not be heard before this year’s elections. Also, he said, they found requests for personal information too intrusive.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil in Kansas City, Kan., granted their request Wednesday for a dismissal. The judge was still considering whether the case should be heard in federal court or state court, as the two men had wanted.

Spry and Hamner, both over 80, live in a retirement home in Overbrook, about 20 miles southeast of Topeka. They sued Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the state’s top elections official and the architect of the photo ID law, after Osage County officials refused to count their votes in the November 2012.

The two men couldn’t produce a valid photo ID. Their litigation said the requirement is “a pernicious attack” on the voting rights of Kansans who, like them, don’t have cars or easy access to the Internet to obtain a free state ID. They alleged their right to equal protection under the law had been violated.

“There was no way we could get a timely ruling,” Lawing said. “They couldn’t go any further.”

Kobach said the two men would have had a difficult time prevailing. He noted that the state constitution requires the Legislature to “provide by law for proper proofs” of a person’s right to vote. Also, in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a legal challenge to a voter ID law in Indiana.

“They didn’t have a good legal hook to hang their argument on,” Kobach said during an interview. “They had so many obstacles that they just couldn’t overcome.”

Legislators enacted the photo ID law at Kobach’s urging, as well has his proposal to require new voters to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship to election officials when registering. The photo ID law took effect in January 2012, and the proof-of-citizenship requirement was in effect a year later.

Kobach argues that the measures prevent voter fraud. Critics of the laws contend that the reported cases of potential election fraud — in the dozens over the past decade — don’t justify the measures and say the requirements suppress voter turnout.

Spry and Hamner filed their lawsuit in June 2013 in the state district court in Shawnee County, seeking a quick ruling. In November, Kobach had the case moved to federal court.

Lawing argued that his clients raised issues involving their rights under the Kansas Constitution, and the case should return to state court. Kobach argued that the lawsuit inevitably raised questions about whether rights protected by the U.S. Constitution were at issue, making the federal court the proper venue.

With that issue still unresolved, U.S. Magistrate Gerald Rushfelt earlier this month set a trial for May 2015, saying it was expected to last three days.

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