TOPEKA — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Wednesday that comparing voter registration applications against Kansas birth certificates will reduce the backlog of registrants whose voting rights are on hold for not providing proof-of-citizenship documents.
Checking the state’s birth certificates has reduced the number of prospective registrants who can’t vote by 7,700, from slightly more than 20,000 to about 12,500, Kobach said in testimony before the House Elections Committee.
The backlog of suspended registrants has been a significant concern to some legislators and voting-rights advocates who object to the Secure and Fair Elections Act, a Kobach-inspired law that requires voters to provide proof of citizenship before they can become eligible to vote.
Kobach said 72,999 prospective voters have attempted to register since the proof-of-citizenship requirement went into effect at the beginning of 2013. Of those, 52,035, or 72 percent, completed the process by providing the papers the law demands, he said.
“Seventy-two percent, that’s a pretty good percentage,” Kobach said.
Twenty-eight percent, or 20,201 prospective registrants, didn’t provide citizenship proof with their applications. But that number is shrinking, Kobach said.
Since Kansas Department of Health and Environment officials started verifying citizenship for the Secretary of State’s Office early this month, 7,716 of the suspended voters have been found to have Kansas birth certificates on file, according to figures Kobach provided the committee.
Kobach said the county election offices have been sent the names of registrants confirmed to be citizens by KDHE. He said it should take about a week or so to get their names on the rolls as fully eligible voters.
Registrants born in other states are still required to provide their own documents proving their citizenship.
Members of the committee also questioned Kobach extensively about his plan for a two-tiered voting system if he loses a federal court case in Wichita challenging a federal voting-rules commission.
The two-tier – or “bifurcated” – voting plan would create a system in which voters using a Kansas registration form would be allowed to vote for all federal, state and local candidates. Voters who register with a federal form would be allowed to cast ballots only for federal candidates – in essence president, vice president and members of Congress.
“We really don’t want to bifurcate the system,” said committee Chairman Scott Schwab, R-Olathe.
Reps. Tom Sawyer and John Carmichael, both D-Wichita, pressed Kobach for details on how such a system would work.
“I’m worried about a potential two-tiered system turning into chaos at the polls,” said Carmichael, who has worked as an Election Day official.
Replied Kobach: “Honestly, it would not have a huge impact on the numbers.”
Kobach said only about 100 Kansas voters have registered using the federal form.
If it comes to it, the federal-only voters would not vote by machine but would be given a separate paper ballot listing only the offices they’re eligible to vote for, Kobach said.
In response to a question from Sawyer, Kobach said he thinks federally registered voters would also be ineligible to sign referendum petitions or run for state or local offices.
In a case challenging Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship rules – which are similar to Kansas’ – the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the state’s requirement conflicted with the federal “motor voter” law and that Arizona must register voters who use the federal form. The federal form requires a sworn statement of citizenship but no physical documents as proof.
Kobach has joined with Arizona’s secretary of state in a lawsuit to try to force the federal Election Assistance Commission to add the states’ citizenship requirements to the instructions that go with the federal form. The commission has no actual members, due to Senate gridlock blocking President Obama’s nominations for federal posts.
Absent an actual commission, Wichita-based U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren recently ordered the commission’s hired staff members to make a decision. The staff members denied Kansas and Arizona’s request, setting the stage for a pivotal hearing in Melgren’s court, scheduled for Feb. 11 and 12.
Melgren was the U.S. attorney for Kansas under President George W. Bush, who later appointed him to the federal bench.