TOPEKA — Because of delays in implementing federal identification laws, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach can’t count on much help any time soon with his backlog of nearly 20,000 suspended voters, the man in charge of state driver’s licenses said Wednesday.
Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan said the federal government has pushed back the implementation of proof-of-citizenship requirements in its “Real ID” law – requirements that would have met Kansas standards to qualify people to vote.
And even after Real ID takes full effect, Jordan said, he won’t require people renewing Kansas driver’s licenses to provide proof of citizenship documents if they don’t want to.
Eventually, a Real ID compliant license or equivalent will be required to enter secure federal buildings or to fly on an airline, Jordan told the Kansas House Elections Committee.
But that day has not yet come and could be years away, he said.
“In 2011 it was going to be fully implemented, in 2012 it was going to be fully implemented,” Jordan said.
“We just got a letter from (the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) and here’s what implementation of Real ID means now,” he said. “It means in this year, in 2014, you have to have a Real ID to get into the Homeland Security Nebraska Avenue office in Washington D.C. I don’t know how many Kansans are headed to the Homeland Security office on Nebraska Avenue in Washington, DC.”
He said that’s the only firm date his department got and the letter gave only a vague outline for the future of Real ID.
“They go on to say, well, we’re going to add other federal buildings and airports somewhere between 2014 and 2017,” he said.
Airports won’t be added before 2016 at the earliest, he said.
He said the plan for Real ID in Kansas is to start offering it as an option, probably by this fall.
Applicants renewing their driver’s licenses will be able to get a Real-ID compliant license if they present their proof of citizenship, usually a passport or birth certificate. Married women who have changed their names will also be required to provide marriage and divorce documents tracing back to their birth name, if they use their birth certificate.
But Kansans who want to just drive and don’t care about flying or going to federal buildings will still be able to renew their regular Kansas license without providing citizenship documents, Jordan said.
“There are some people, by the way, who don’t want anything that looks like or appears to be a federal ID,” Jordan said. “So we said, OK, let’s give people a choice.”
That’s not good news for the voter suspension backlog.
The backlog resulted from implementation of Kansas’ Secure And Fair Elections Act, passed by the Legislature in 2011 at Kobach’s urging.
An effort to prevent voting by non-citizens, the SAFE Act requires that all new voters provide a proof of citizenship document before they can vote.
As of Wednesday, about 19,800 prospective voters had registered but had their voting privileges suspended until they provide their proof of citizenship.
When lawmakers passed the act, it was widely assumed that the driver’s license bureaus would be collecting citizenship documents from everyone who got or renewed a license.
“Everything you say makes complete sense … I understand what you’re saying and why you’re saying it,” Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, told Jordan. “It strikes me as perhaps somewhat different than what was being anticipated when we were having discussions” before passage of the SAFE Act.
Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita and an opponent of the SAFE Act, said there seems to be little reason to continue the voting restrictions.
He noted that Jordan told the committee that the driver’s license bureaus requires proof of legal residency from all new drivers, citizens and non-citizens. And those who show legal residency using non-citizen immigrant ID’s aren’t even offered the chance to register to vote.
“The citizens are the only ones who make it to that stage,” Sawyer said.