Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is peddling a new legal argument that would be laughable if it weren’t so offensive, especially coming from the state office traditionally associated with promoting voting and increasing turnout. It’s that Kansas could create a second class of voters unfit to participate in anything but presidential and congressional elections.
Kobach sketched out the nutty idea last week, as Democrats said they would like to revisit the proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration during the Sept. 3 special session Gov. Sam Brownback has called to rewrite the Hard 50 sentencing law. Taking up the voting law seems unlikely, given the strong support for it in the strongly Republican Legislature and the need to keep the $35,000-a-day session brief.
But Democrats including Wichita state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau and state Rep. Jim Ward have two well-founded concerns.
They suspect that, despite Kobach’s assurances, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship law means Kansas’ law is unconstitutional, too. The 7-2 decision, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, said federal law “precludes Arizona from requiring a federal form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself.”
The Democrats also are unhappy that because of the proof-of-citizenship requirement, which went into effect Jan. 1, the voter registrations of nearly 14,000 Kansans, including more than 2,400 in Sedgwick County, are “in suspense.” The state says the wannabe new voters are in limbo because they haven’t provided the birth certificates, passports or other documents necessary to satisfy the requirement. But that doesn’t square with news reports that some of those “in suspense” already had presented proof of citizenship at the driver’s license office or had voted in the past.
Whether the roadblock is missing documentation or bureaucratic error, the state is standing in the way of these Kansans’ right to vote – all in the name of solving a voter-fraud problem that has amounted to a handful of cases a year too weak to lead to convictions.
It isn’t as if this suspension of voting rights is theoretical until next year’s primary and general elections, either. Local elections loom around the state, including Derby’s Oct. 8 ballot question on a half-cent sales tax to support parks, library and fire and rescue services.
So how does the state’s chief elections officer respond to the imminent threat to voting rights posed by the proof-of-citizenship law? By saying his staff is “assessing” whether Kansas will accept the federal voter-registration form (which only requires someone to sign a sworn statement saying he is a citizen) to vote in federal elections and require a form with the state’s higher standard of proof of citizenship to vote in races for state and local offices.
“That is a realistic option for a state to take,” Kobach told The Eagle.
No, that is ridiculous. Voter registration should extend to all elections.
And if the logic of such a move is appalling lawsuit bait, imagine the logistics. Local election officials somehow would be expected to separate the second-class federal-only voters from the state-sanctioned ones and throw out any illegally cast votes.
We shudder to think how that would play out in Sedgwick County, where Kobach’s chosen election commissioner had enough problems counting votes in a timely manner last year.
We know Kobach loves nothing better than a fight over states’ rights, but his staffers should not be wasting a minute on his latest folly.