Politics & Government

January 13, 2011

Kobach targets mail-in ballots in planned bill

TOPEKA — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Wednesday that he will include provisions dealing with mail-in ballots in his plan to enact the nation's toughest election fraud law.

TOPEKA — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Wednesday that he will include provisions dealing with mail-in ballots in his plan to enact the nation's toughest election fraud law.

Kobach said in an interview that he will propose requiring people to provide a driver's license number, identification number or another form of ID when they submit a request for a ballot by mail. He said his plan also will require county election officials to verify the signatures on requests for mail-in ballots.

The newly elected Republican said he's working with the Legislature's staff on the text of a bill and could announce its details next week. He promised during his campaign last year to push for a law requiring Kansas voters to show photo identification at the polls and provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote for the first time.

Eight states, including Missouri, require a photo ID at the polls, and Oklahoma joins them when its law takes effect July 1, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But Kobach said the combination of steps he's proposing — including the provisions on mail-in ballots — should give Kansas a model law.

"Under the status quo, if you're not verifying anything in the mail-in ballot process, Dopey, Sneezy and Sleepy can all vote by mail and no one will ever know that they were fictitious individuals," he said. "But if you have this process, those fictitious identities aren't going to have driver's licenses. They aren't going to have photo IDs."

Kobach, a law professor on leave who last year helped draft Arizona's law against illegal immigration, emphasized election fraud as an issue during his campaign. He ousted Democrat Chris Biggs, despite skepticism from Biggs and others that significant irregularities have occurred in Kansas.

Critics contend that what Kobach proposes will decrease voter turnout and fear the biggest effect will be among minorities and the poor. The Kansas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has already planned a Jan. 19 news conference at the Statehouse to protest Kobach's legislation.

"It would be great to see Secretary Kobach focus more on connecting voters to the process and increasing turnout than to put impediments or hurdles in place to keep them from voting or having their vote count," said state Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state in 2002 and 2006.

An internal memo prepared under Biggs' GOP predecessor in February 2008 listed 30 reports of alleged irregularities dating to 1998, involving at least 120 ballots, but the memo acknowledged many reports came without evidence.

In 2009, the Secretary of State's Office ran registration lists against a list of foreign nationals with Kansas driver's licenses and found several dozen potential matches. Biggs' office said two non-citizens voted and were prosecuted, though he didn't provide further details.

Kobach said Wednesday that he's preparing a new report on election irregularities for legislators and has said repeatedly that cases reported in the past are likely only a fraction of what occurs.

"You've got to block each of the major avenues of voter fraud and do it in a way that doesn't make it more difficult to vote," Kobach said. "I think this strikes the right balance."

Kansas, like other states, allows voters to cast their ballots ahead of Election Day, either by mailing in a ballot or showing up at a county election office. That advance balloting has become more popular over time.

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