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Eagle editorial: Remove voting barriers

  • Published Thursday, August 15, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is protecting the integrity of our state’s voting system from the likes of Heather Mohr. How reassuring. And ridiculous.

Mohr, an occupational therapist and a mother of four children, is one of about 3,000 Sedgwick County residents who registered to vote using the proper federal procedure but whose registrations were suspended until they provide proof of citizenship. Statewide, nearly 14,000 Kansans are “in suspense.”

The Eagle interviewed several of these local residents. None was an illegal immigrant. None was a threat to democracy. Yet all have to jump through more hoops to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Kobach pushed the proof-of-citizenship requirement, which went into effect Jan. 1, as part of his campaign against voter fraud. But there is no evidence that voter fraud is a major problem, and even less evidence that illegal immigrants are voting.

According to records from before Kobach took office in 2011, there had been only seven cases of alleged fraud referred to local, state or federal authorities in five years, and only one of those cases was prosecuted. One case.

So to prevent a virtually nonexistent problem, the state added barriers that are blocking thousands of citizens. To add to the insult, Kobach, who has argued that even one case of voter fraud is too many, dismissed the number of suspended voters as insignificant.

“This is a pretty tiny percentage of 1.8 million voters,” he said. “It’s a small number of people.”

The American Civil Liberties Union notified Kobach this week that it intends to file a federal lawsuit over the proof-of-citizenship requirement. Attorney General Derek Schmidt should also speak out against the law.

Several of the suspended voters questioned the motive of the law – whether the real purpose was to discourage certain types of people from voting, particularly the poor. That’s an understandable suspicion, as GOP-controlled legislatures in several states have passed voting restrictions over the strong protests of groups such as the NAACP and the League of Women Voters.

North Carolina’s governor signed a law Monday that requires a government-issued photo ID to vote, shortens early voting periods (despite long lines during last November’s election), and eliminates a civics program that registers students in advance of their 18th birthdays.

The Rev. William Barber, president of North Carolina’s NAACP, said that a large number of African-Americans, Latinos and students have come into the electorate, and the only way for state GOP leaders to stop this trend “is to try to put up barricades.”

What’s most frustrating about Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship barricade is that the U.S. Supreme Court already ruled against such a restriction. Yet Kansas keeps blocking people like Heather Mohr.

Nearly 14,000 so far. And counting.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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