Eagle editorial: Right to vote in Kansas has an asterisk

08/01/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:26 AM

Register to vote and you can vote, right? Not in Kansas anymore.

Tuesday’s primary will be the first major election in which the constitutional right to vote now has an asterisk in the state: Only those who can prove U.S. citizenship to the satisfaction of a trumped-up anti-immigration law can register and see their votes count at all. And thanks to an ongoing court battle, a handful of voters who registered using the federal rather than the state form will be allowed to vote on Tuesday only in the U.S. House and Senate races.

Since the proof-of-citizenship requirement went into effect in January 2013, the list of people who’ve tried to register but had their registrations put “in suspense” for missing documentation had grown to 18,260 statewide as of Thursday, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, including 3,977 in Sedgwick County.

More Kansas leaders and Kansans in general should be upset about the would-be voters who won’t be voting on Tuesday because of the law.

And some key Kansans who do care very much, pastors with the Greater Wichita Ministerial League, deserve better than the treatment they’ve received recently from the Secretary of State’s Office.

The pastors, who serve predominantly African-American churches, complained again this week in a press conference that Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker was disrespectful and dismissive of their concerns at a Wichita meeting on July 10.

If there is disagreement about who was rude to whom at the meeting, and even how he ended up speaking there, Rucker clearly erred in pointing to the 1859 Wyandotte Constitution as some kind of laudable foundational model for the state’s new voting restrictions. Yes, that territorial document addressed citizenship and voter qualifications, but in the context of excluding all but white men from the ballot box.

Rucker’s boss, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, doubled down on the disrespect when asked Wednesday on WIBW Radio in Topeka about the churches against the law. “I don’t know which churches, and I would put ‘churches’ in quotation marks, because the vast majority of church leaders I’ve spoken to are fully in favor of our photo ID law,” Kobach said, claiming the law’s only opponents are “those on the radical left,” his GOP primary opponent and the Obama administration.

On the contrary, the Wichita pastors’ concerns that the new citizenship paperwork and photo ID hurdles disproportionately affect minorities are well-founded. They deserve credit for their initiative to encourage registration and voting in their churches and the community, as well as a respectful hearing of their concerns from the state’s chief elections official.

And Kansas deserves a better secretary of state.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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