By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Kansas on Tuesday asked a U.S. appeals court to reinstate rules requiring proof of U.S. citizenship from people registering to vote, the latest political battle over stringent identification laws enacted in Republican-led states ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
The mandate that Kansans present passports, birth certificates or other proof of citizenship when registering to vote while obtaining driver's licenses was challenged by a U.S. District Court judge in May.
Her ruling restored the right to vote in the Nov. 8 election for thousands of people who were asked if they wanted to register while at motor vehicle offices, but not required to submit the additional documentation. Judge Julie Robinson ordered those people to be re-registered. She said that Kansas could identify only three non-citizens who voted between 2003 and the onset of the law in 2013.
Kansas' law is one of the strictest voter identification statutes in the country, making the state a symbol for mostly Republican Party supporters who say the rules are meant to prevent voter fraud. Opponents, mostly Democrats, say they discriminate against minorities.
"Every time a noncitizen votes, it effectively cancels out the vote of a citizen,” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said in court filings ahead of Tuesday's oral arguments.
In arguments before the Denver-based U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Kobach said, "We don't need to be authorized by the federal government" to set up rules to manage state and local elections.
Arguing for the lower court's decision to be upheld, the American Civil Liberties Union specifically targeted a portion of Kansas law that deals with people who register to vote at motor vehicle department offices.
The ACLU argued that the requirement conflicts with a federal law from 1993 aimed at making it easier for people to register to vote by doing so when they apply for a driver's license.
Because that law does not require people to bring more documentation than they would need to get a driver's license, Robinson ruled that about 18,000 people whose registration had been invalidated by the state should be re-registered.
Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump, who earlier this month said that voters who opposed his candidacy are "going to vote 10 times," is asking supporters to volunteer to be election observers at the polls. He routinely calls Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton "crooked" and has said that if he loses, it will be because the system is rigged against him.
Led by lawyers from the ACLU, opponents of the voter identification laws have filed lawsuits in several states, successfully overturning or delaying implementation of some statutes.
Last month, a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled that voters who do not have photo identification will be able to vote in the presidential election, and the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a North Carolina law requiring voters to bring a photo ID to the polls.
Seventeen states have put new voting restrictions in place since the last presidential contest, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Grant McCool)