TOPEKA — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Thursday that he's not giving up on having a proof-of-citizenship requirement for new voters in place ahead of next year's elections, despite the state Senate's rejection of the idea.
State law already says that people who register to vote for the first time in Kansas will have to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship to election officials. The rule was enacted this year at Kobach's urging but doesn't take effect until January 2013, a year later than he wanted.
The same law also will require voters to show photo identification at the polls, starting next year. Kobach wanted the proof-of-citizenship requirement to take effect at the same time, and he wanted authority for his office to file and prosecute election fraud.
But senators had insisted on the later start date for the proof-of-citizenship requirement and had removed the new prosecutorial power for Kobach's office before the legislation passed.
The Republican secretary of state praised the compromise version of the new law as a historic step toward combating election fraud and as a model for other states. But he also didn't stop pushing for the stronger version, and on Wednesday, the Senate rejected a tougher bill on a 23-15 vote.
"We didn't get it, but I think there will be an opportunity to get it next year," Kobach told the Associated Press.
During Wednesday's debate, some Kobach critics renewed long-standing arguments that election fraud is nowhere near as serious a problem as Kobach says it is, while others resented his efforts to revise a law that had strong bipartisan support.
"You don't unravel the deal after it's finished," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. "And he needs to learn that."
Opponents of Kobach's proposals contend the photo ID and proof-of-citizenship requirements will suppress turnout and prevent some Kansans from registering to vote — arguments Kobach strongly disputes.
Kobach said Thursday that Kansas typically sees a wave of voter registrations in the months ahead of a presidential election. He said federal laws designed to prevent citizens from being disenfranchised also make it difficult for states to remove people from the rolls even if they weren't eligible to register.
Kobach said a check of voter registration rolls this year against driver's license records showed that 67 noncitizens with licenses were registered. The state has about 1.7 million registered voters.