Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach faced hostile questioning and frequent interruptions during a public meeting he held Thursday afternoon in Wichita to discuss new voter laws passed last year by state legislators.
About 30 people attended the meeting at the Sedgwick County Extension Education Center, 7001 W 21st St. Most of those who spoke accused Kobach, who had sought the changes, of using a relatively small number of suspected cases of voter fraud to make the voting process more complicated and inconvenient in order to suppress voting by some segments of the population, including the poor, elderly and minorities.
Kobach denied that suppressing votes was his goal, and he argued that the changes would be easy to comply with.
The meeting was the fourth of 11 meetings he is holding around the state through mid-June to provide information about the new laws.
Under the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act signed into law in April 2011, Kansas voters must show photo identification when casting a vote in person and have their signature verified. They must include a copy of an acceptable form of photo identification when voting by mail.
Starting Jan. 1, 2013, people registering to vote for the first time in Kansas must prove U.S. citizenship when they register.
Members of the audience complained that long waits at driver’s license stations made it difficult for people to get photo ID and discouraged people from trying. Some audience members who had tried to get ID complained about receiving bad information from local election officials and driver’s license stations that didn’t know the new laws.
Asked by one audience member how the new laws came about, Kobach said lawmakers voted for them by an overwhelming majority in the Legislature.
“If you think my ideas are bad, then you should also think the ideas of your legislators are bad,” he said, drawing derisive laughter.
One audience member accused Kobach of coming to office looking to suppress voters and shouted at Kobach when he tried to respond.
When someone argued that the laws make voting harder, Kobach said voter turnout was higher than normal at elections that have been held under portions of the new laws this year.
One man said he was troubled more by the hassle and inconvenience the new laws will cause, resulting in voter suppression, than by a few fraudulent voters.
He received applause when he said, “It’s not the job of government to mess people up and dictate to us. It’s to facilitate and serve the people, and it’s about time the Kansas government started doing that and make this stuff go away.”
Kobach said he was there to provide information to make the new laws easier to understand. He denied the charge leveled by one member of the audience that he has a history of voter suppression.
”If these laws suppress voters, I would not be for it,” he said.
Information about the new laws may be obtained at gotVoterID.com, or by calling 800-262-VOTE (8683).