TOPEKA — About 100 people rallied in the Capitol rotunda Tuesday supporting a proposal by Wichita lawmakers to ease restrictions on voting registration that have resulted in 15,000 Kansans being ineligible to vote.
The demonstrators listened to speeches from like-minded legislators and briefly occupied Gov. Sam Brownback’s ceremonial and public-relations offices in an unsuccessful effort to get him to speak to them.
They were there to protest a state law requiring that new voter registrants provide documents proving their U.S. citizenship – generally a birth certificate or passport – before they can cast a ballot in an election.
Among those who spoke at the meeting was Derek Bruey, a lifelong Kansan and Wichita State University music education student, who said he’s among the 15,000 prospective voters whose registration has been blocked.
“I’m not heavily involved in politics. I’d much rather be making music, actually,” he said. “But I’m here today because my right to vote is being challenged.”
He said he went to the Department of Motor Vehicles when he turned 18 with a birth certificate, school ID, bank statement and Social Security card in hand, and filled out the forms to get a driver’s license, register for the draft and register to vote.
He said he got the license and a notice that he’s draft-registered, but he also got a notice that his voting registration is suspended.
“The letter … said that I would have to go to the election office and show the same four documents again,” he said. “So I’m enough of a citizen to fight for my country if need be, but I’m not enough of a citizen to vote for the leaders who could send me to war?”
In an impassioned speech, Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, called the situation intolerable and invoked the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“All of you today here, I know you have a dream too, that you’ll be able to go to the polls and cast your vote and let democracy work,” she said.
Other speakers at the rally represented a variety of civil- and voting-rights groups including the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, Sunflower Community Action, the KanVote coalition and the African Methodist-Episcopal Church.
“Many of us came here on different ships, but today we are all in the same boat,” said Ben Scott of the Kansas NAACP.
Like Faust-Goudeau, he compared the fight to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s that cleared the way for African-American participation in the election process.
“We thought it was over, but it looks like it’s not over yet,” he said. “But I can tell you we won’t give up, we’ve come too far.”
Legislators who favor the proof of citizenship law as a way to prevent noncitizen voting fraud were unmoved.
Rep. Joe Edwards, R-Haysville, said the recent statistics on voting suspensions undercut the argument that it’s aimed at the poor, elderly and minorities who lean toward Democrats.
The statistics show 57 percent of the suspended voters are independent, 23 percent Republican and 18 percent Democrat.