KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A student at the University of Kansas testified Wednesday in federal court about his refusal to provide citizenship documentation in flagrant protest of the Kansas voter registration law.
As the second day of testimony unfolded in a case that tests Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s claims of widespread voter fraud, Parker Bednasek said he was instructed by a former Kansas Democratic Party official to try to register in 2014 without proof of citizenship.
Kobach this week is defending a challenge from Bednasek and the American Civil Liberties Union to the voting law he champions. On Wednesday, testimony from Kobach’s appointee to the Sedgwick County elections office pointed to errors behind reported cases of noncitizens attempting to vote, and Kobach’s team again struggled to follow court rules for introducing evidence.
Under questions from KU law lecturer Mark Johnson, who represents Bednasek, the KU student said he has been accepted into officer candidate school for the U.S. Navy after he graduates in May. Bednasek previously lived in Oklahoma and Texas before enrolling at KU in 2014.
Receiving instruction from Cheyenne Davis, former deputy executive director for the Kansas Democratic Party, he agreed to sacrifice his vote because he doesn’t like the Kansas law.
When Garrett Roe, a deputy in Kobach’s office, tried to ask Bednasek about the consequences of not providing proof of citizenship, U.S District Judge Julie Robinson halted questioning to explain how evidence rules work, which she previously explained Tuesday to Kobach’s chief legal counsel, Sue Becker.
Robinson advised Roe to show Bednasek a transcript of earlier testimony before asking questions about it. After following her directions, Roe asked the judge what he should do next.
“Just ask him now,” Robinson said, “didn’t you testify to X, Y and Z?”
The judge then sustained an objection from Johnson when Roe asked Bednasek how he could be considered a Kansas resident when he never obtained a Kansas driver’s license and his vehicle remains registered in Texas.
As Robinson told attorneys she already ruled Bednasek is qualified to vote in Kansas, Becker interrupted to say she had spotted Bednasek looking to his attorney before answering questions.
“I feel like the counsel is coaching his witness,” Becker said.
“Oh, for crying out loud!” Johnson said.
Robinson: “I don’t know why he would need to be coached on where his car is registered.”
Another Lawrence resident, Steven Fish — the namesake in the ACLU case — said he couldn’t register to vote in 2014 because he couldn’t find his birth certificate, which was in his mother’s possession when she died the year before. Fish was born on an Air Force base in Illinois that no longer exists and couldn’t figure out how to obtain a new copy of his birth certificate.
When Kobach’s office offered assistance, Roe revealed in cross-examination, Fish declined because he didn’t want to affect his standing with the ACLU.
ACLU attorney Angela Liu then directed questions to Tabitha Lehman, appointed by Kobach to her position as election commissioner for Sedgwick County. Her duties include reporting information about suspected voter fraud to Kobach’s office.
In at least two instances, however, she reported names of people who were given a voter registration form by Department of Motor Vehicles employees despite acknowledging they weren’t citizens.
Lehman called their registrations “dicey” but agreed when Liu asked if these reported cases of possible fraud were actually DMV mistakes and not examples of someone trying to cheat the system.
A spreadsheet Lehman compiled with information about 38 people was called into question because Kobach failed to provide underlying documents to Johnson and ACLU attorneys. Robinson rejected the evidence pending further review.