TOPEKA — People registering to vote in Kansas for the first time would have to show proof of citizenship beginning June 15 under a bill the Kansas House advanced on Wednesday.
The requirement had been scheduled to start Jan. 1, 2013.
Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, warned that county election offices and other agencies responsible for registering new voters may not be prepared for the move and that many voters, particularly women who have changed their last names, may have more difficulty registering to vote.
“Should this bill become law, it’s going to have a devastating impact on voters in this state,” she said.
The House will likely take a final vote on the bill today before forwarding it to the Senate for more debate.
Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, reminded House members that lawmakers have already approved the proof of citizenship law and that this just moves up the effective date in an effort to properly vet the wave of voters who will register in the buildup to the presidential and state elections this fall.
He noted that election officials from Sedgwick County and two other large counties have said they’re ready to implement the law and don’t foresee any major problems.
Last year, Kansas became one of 15 states requiring voters to show an ID, such as a drivers license or passport, before voting. Kansas’ law is in effect and faces its most significant test yet when Wichitans vote Tuesday on whether to let the city give developers of the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Wichita 75 percent of guest tax revenues generated by the hotel’s guests for 15 years.
When lawmakers approved voter ID, they changed the effective date for people to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote in Kansas for the first time to Jan. 1, 2013.
But Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who plays a prominent role in drafting laws around the country that crack down on illegal immigration, wanted the date moved up to June 15 to require proof of citizenship before the presidential election this fall.
The idea faces strong opposition from Democrats, groups that represent minorities and the League of Women Voters.
They say the state hasn’t done enough to educate voters about the voter ID law and that the proof of citizenship requirement could represent a poll tax because newly registering voters from other states that don’t already have ID may have to pay their state of birth in order to get a birth certificate to prove their citizenship.
Kobach contends that the vast majority of voters have ID and that the state will be ready to provide free birth certificates to those who sign an affidavit swearing that they don’t have any other acceptable proof of citizenship.