TOPEKA — Secretary of State Kris Kobach's bill requiring photo ID and proof of citizenship for voters advanced out of a Senate committee on Thursday, in a slightly weakened form.
The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee stripped House Bill 2067 of provisions that would have given Kobach the authority to criminally prosecute allegations of voter fraud. The committee also voted to delay until 2013 the start date for when new voters will have to provide proof of citizenship when they register.
Afterward, Kobach said the vote virtually assures that photo ID will be required when voters go to the polls or send in absentee ballots in the 2012 election.
"Some version of this bill is going to pass," Kobach said. "We probably aren't yet to the final language of the bill."
He said the removal of the prosecutorial power was a procedural move, so that the bill wouldn't also have to go through the Judiciary Committee on its way to the Senate floor.
He said that could be added back through floor amendments or in a House-Senate conference committee.
He had strong objections to the committee's decision to push back by a year the date for when new registrants will have to provide a birth certificate, passport, tribal ID card or other citizenship proof.
He said that would complicate the process of educating county election officials and voters on the new requirements. He also said it will give noncitizens an extra year to sneak their names into the voting rolls — and added that it's much harder to get such voters off the rolls than to keep them from getting on in the first place.
Sen. Kelly Kultala, D-Kansas City, said she proposed the amendment to give the Department of Motor Vehicles time to implement its plan to begin collecting and imaging license applicants' citizenship documents before the department has to start sharing that information with voter registration.
The bill passed on a voice vote with only Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, recording his opposition.
After the meeting, he said he thinks the measure will make voting too difficult for many residents and decrease voter turnout. He also said Kobach's assertions of widespread voter fraud are greatly exaggerated.
"I don't think there is voter fraud in the state of Kansas," he said.
The Kansas Equality Coalition objected to a provision that would require transgendered individuals to disclose their original and current gender to register to vote.
Coalition lobbyist Thomas Witt said thousands of transgendered people are living quietly in Kansas.
Medical information on sex changes is now closely held by the state, but it could be dangerous for transgendered people to have to "out" themselves when they register, Witt said.
Gossip leaking out of voter registration offices around the state "will expose them to discrimination, placing their jobs, housing and even safety at risk," Witt said. "This is a big issue."