TOPEKA — Kansas no longer plans to require people renewing driver’s licenses to produce proof that they’re living in the U.S. legally, Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan said Monday, confirming a policy shift with implications for the state’s administration of a separate proof-of-citizenship requirement for new voters.
Jordan said that the Department of Revenue, which oversees licensing, will develop a program in coming months in which drivers renewing their licenses can voluntarily present birth certificates, passports or other citizenship documents and have it noted on their licenses. Kansas law already requires people obtaining a new license to provide proof of their lawful residency.
State officials had previously planned for such a requirement to be extended to all license renewals under a 2005 federal anti-terrorism law designed to make states’ licenses more secure. But federal officials recently declared that Kansas is complying with the federal statute without requiring proof of legal residency to renew a driver’s license.
Many Kansas legislators had assumed the requirement would be universal for both renewing and obtaining a new driver’s license when they enacted a state law taking effect this year to mandate that new voters provide proof of their U.S. citizenship when registering. Lawmakers thought having the requirement in place for driver’s licenses would make it easier to administer the rule for new voters.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, meeting resistance from states, repeatedly delayed implementation of the federal “Real ID” requirement for driver’s licenses. Jordan said his agency responded to concerns that some Kansas residents wouldn’t be able to produce the necessary documents – and would be without a valid driver’s license – as well as to cues from DHS that it wouldn’t, for example, block people from flying if they had a license that didn’t meet the federal “Real ID” policy.
“The way Homeland Security is framing this now, that may be fine to get you through the airport gate,” Jordan said. “We just want to make it convenient for Kansans, and this seems the best way to do it.”
But the department’s decision comes amid an ongoing debate over the proof-of-citizenship rule for new voters. The registrations of about 17,000 prospective voters are on hold because they haven’t yet provided the proper papers to election officials. They can’t legally cast ballots until they do.
The secretary of state’s office said that at the beginning of the month, more than 80 percent of the registrations on hold came from people who filled out forms in state driver’s license offices. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who championed the proof-of-citizenship rule of new voters, said the number would be significantly lower if anyone renewing a driver’s license also had to provide the same proof.