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Eagle editorial: No two-tiered voting

  • Published Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, at 5:18 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, March 3, 2014, at 6:40 p.m.

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As this election year began, the voting rights of more than 19,300 Kansans were on hold and Secretary of State Kris Kobach still hadn’t ruled out implementing an absurd two-tiered election system under which some people could vote only in congressional races.

But at least some leaders, including Kobach and Gov. Sam Brownback, are acknowledging with their actions and words that there’s a problem with voter registration in the state. That is a welcome change.

Kobach is suing the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in his effort to enforce the Secure and Fair Elections Act’s proof-of-citizenship mandate, which conflicts with federal law. Though the 19,300-plus Kansans have seen their voter registrations stalled for lack of documentation proving U.S. citizenship, Kobach has said the “law is having its intended effect.”

While the court fight continues to play out, though, he said this week that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s vital statistics office will soon start comparing the names on the suspended registration list with state birth records and notifying the Secretary of State’s Office when matches are confirmed. Then elections officials will notify people whose registrations are completed as a result of the records comparison. He called that “just good government.”

The proactive step is better than nothing. But it won’t help anyone on the list born in another state or any women whose birth names are different from their married ones. And if such a records check was legally and bureaucratically possible, why did the state put the burden of proof of citizenship on Kansans in the first place?

Kobach’s Democratic challenger, former Republican state Sen. Jean Schodorf of Wichita, suggested the records comparison should have started a year ago. “It’s pathetic that he was not able to have the knowledge or conscience to implement a law so that it would not hurt people,” Schodorf told Associated Press. She also has called for lawmakers to audit how Kobach has administered the voting law.

House Elections Committee Chairman Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, has said the Legislature may consider mandating that the Kansas Department of Revenue ask for citizenship papers when signing up voters renewing their driver’s licenses.

Some Democratic lawmakers have called for the proof-of-citizenship requirement to be repealed, which would be the surest way to clear up this registration mess.

For his part, Brownback recently told the Lawrence Journal-World that he doesn’t want two-tiered voting in Kansas. “I hope those issues are resolved as they come forward in the Legislature,” he said.

Noncitizens should not be able to vote in Kansas – and there is no evidence that this is significant problem. Elected officials must ensure that all citizens who want to exercise their constitutional right to vote in the state this year can do so – and on every race, local and statewide as well as congressional.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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