It’s all about the wave — and whether Kansas is ready for it.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach says he expects a surge of voter registrations leading up the presidential election this fall. And he wants lawmakers to pass a bill to require proof of citizenship for new voter registrations starting June 15, instead of the Jan. 1, 2013, start date approved by lawmakers last year as part of a law requiring people to show an official form of ID before they vote.
In 2011, Kobach said an average of 6,200 people registered to vote per month. But in the four months leading up to the 2008 presidential election, nearly 150,000 registered — or about 37,500 a month.
“If we are serious about ensuring that only U.S. citizens are in that wave and that alien voters do not cancel out the votes of U.S. citizens, we have to have the protection in place now,” he said to the House Elections Committee.
The Committee heard from supporters, including a written statement from Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman, of the early start to the citizenship requirement Wednesday. Opponents of the bill will address the committee Monday.
Kobach said the state will be ready by June 15 to educate voters, provide ways for people to obtain free birth certificates, register to vote and verify the residency status of those voters.
“We’re bending over backwards to make sure everybody gets whatever they need to register and whatever they need to vote,” he said.
The new requirements would apply only to those registering to vote in Kansas for the first time. It would not apply to voters changing party affiliation or moving within the state.
Skeptics say the state isn’t ready to handle that wave of new voters. Last week, for example, Kobach’s office clarified that the law requires the state to provide an avenue for a free birth certificate.
Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, said some people who register in the future during registration drives put on by candidates and other groups may think they’re registered only to find out they’re not when they get to their polling place.
Mah said election officials are supposed to contact those who have registered on paper but haven’t provided proof of citizenship. But she said not everyone leaves a phone number, and not everyone can be easily reached.
“It’s just going to fool people into thinking they’re registered when they’re not,” she said. “It is one, unnecessary, and two, it’s going to be a slam dunk injunction in the courts to stop the whole thing.”
Fraud on voter rolls?
Kobach said 41 cases of voter fraud were reported during 2010. Of those, he said 17 are cases where felons tried to vote and 13 were double votes. The remainder was other, unspecified violations.
The 13 double votes are ready for prosecution, Kobach said.
Among them are voters who appear to have cast ballots in Colorado and Kansas.
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler last week said his office turned information on six voters who cast votes in both states to the FBI. If convicted, those voters could face three years in prison and fines of more than $1,000, Gessler’s office said.
Kobach said that by comparing voter registration data with driver’s license data, his office unearthed a total of 32 nonresidents registered to vote last year and that 27 of them remain on the rolls because it’s legally difficult to remove them. That only includes people who are documented, such as immigrants here on a visa.
Kobach said the number of illegal immigrants on the rolls could be much larger and that there’s no way to compare databases to identify them.
Under federal law, you can vote only if you are a U.S. citizen.
But many remain skeptical.
“If you’re an American citizen, could you go to Mexico and try to vote?” asked Elias Garcia, state director of the League of United Latin-American Citizens. “Just as impossible as an immigrant trying to come here and vote. They’re already feeling persecuted. And the language thing is going to kick your butt. With all the problems immigrants have and the fear of law enforcement, it’s ridiculous to think aliens can vote.”
Ernestine Krehbiel, president of Kansas League of Women Voters, said Kobach’s push to start citizenship requirements early has made League members shake their heads and scramble to register as many people to vote as possible.
She said disagrees with the new law in general.
"It’s just chaos. And chaos for no reason,” she said. “It’s a solution in search of a problem.”