House pushes Senate on proof of citizenship to vote

TOPEKA — The state House took action today trying to force the Senate into a vote on whether to move up the deadline when new Kansas voters will be required to provide proof of citizenship to register.

The bill, House Substitute for Senate Bill 15, would start requiring citizenship proof on June 15, rather than Jan. 1 as current law requires.

The overall effect would be that new voters would have to provide a birth certificate, passport or other less common citizenship documents to register for the August primary or the general election in November.

The bill is based on plans proposed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

The House had previously passed the same proposal in another bill, but it stalled in a Senate committee, where senators said next month is too soon for a smooth transition to the new rules.

Knowing they'd be unable to stop the Republican majority from passing the proposal again, House Democrats put up only token resistance.

Only Rep. Ann Mah, the ranking Democrat on the House Elections Committee went to the podium to speak against it.

She briefly recapped her ongoing criticism of the proof-of-citizenship requirement and said it would fall particularly hard on women, who would have to make an extra trip to the election office to swear out an affidavit if their birth name doesn't match their married name.

"There isn't any court in the land that is going to say that one sex has an extra step to vote," she said. "For those of you who have a modicum of common sense, I ask you to vote no. For those of you who want to make the Senate look like heroes ... then you can vote yes."

Rep. Scott Schwab, who carried the bill on the floor, said opponents made the same dire predictions of court action when the Legislature passed the original voter-ID law last year.

"Even though we've had over 100 elections this year since voter ID has been implemented, we haven't had one (court) challenge," said Schwab, R-Olathe.

Kobach, former state chairman of the Republican Party, has advocated for strict voter ID requirements to fight what he says is widespread voting fraud. Opponents argue that voting fraud is actually negligible and that Kobach's true mission is to suppress turnout among minority and poor voters who are more likely to support Democrats.

Substituting Kobach's proposal into a Senate bill, as the House did today, could make it easier for supporters to force a floor vote in the Senate. The bill passed the House 67-53.

The Department of Motor Vehicles, often the first point of contact for new voters, is installing computer systems to handle the scanning of citizenship documents and transmit them to the secretary of state’s office. That system won’t be up and running until August.

As an interim workaround, Kobach has proposed allowing the DMV to certify that new registrants have produced the proper documents. The actual copies would be provided to the secretary of state later when the new computer system is up and running.

The House amended that idea into the bill it is sending to the Senate.

Senate Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, said senators still have concerns that the DMV is not yet ready to implement the proof of citizenship requirement.

“The last thing we want to do is mandate something that will deny voters the right to vote,” he said.

The Kansas-Western Missouri chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union today released a flow chart called "Navigating the Kansas Voter ID maze."

Last year's voter ID law "has already led to the creation of a Rube Goldberg maze of processes and procedures that almost seem designed to suppress voter participation," said ACLU Executive director Gary Brunk. "Advancing the proof of citizenship requirement adds even more complexity to this convoluted process."