| Secretary of State Kris Kobach conceded Thursday that Kansas won't require first-time voters to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship ahead of this year's elections because the Senate's top leader effectively killed the proposal.
Kobach, who pushed the proposal, declared it dead after Senate President Steve Morris assigned the legislation to a hostile committee. The House passed the bill Wednesday, and Kobach had hoped Morris would bypass a committee review, making an up-or-down vote possible in the Senate to determine whether the bill went to Gov. Sam Brownback.
Kansas has a proof-of-citizenship rule for people registering to vote for the first time, but it doesn't take effect until Jan. 1, 2013. Kobach wanted the rule in place June 15, which he said would be in time for the normal surge of registrations before a presidential election.
Critics of the rule believe it will suppress voter turnout, particularly among poor, minority and elderly voters and college students.
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Kobach, a conservative Republican, disputes those claims and contends that the rule will prevent illegal immigrants and other non-citizens from registering to vote. He said there's little sense in delaying the proof-of-citizenship requirement until after the busiest registration period every four years.
“It's outrageous,” Kobach told The Associated Press. “Because of his action today, it is very likely that dozens of aliens –illegal or not illegal – will get on the Kansas voter rolls.”
Morris, a moderate Hugoton Republican, said he sent the bill to committee because voters, state agencies and county elections officials can't adjust to the rule quickly enough. “No one seems to be ready for this, and to try to rush it will cause problems,” Morris said.
Morris, other GOP moderates and Democrats in the Senate were skeptical last year, when Kobach pushed proposals for a proof-of-citizenship requirement and a law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. Senators agreed to the photo-ID law but, as a compromise with Kobach's allies, delayed the proof-of-citizenship rule until next year.
Kobach promised even before Brownback signed last year's legislation to ask lawmakers to move up the effective date of the proof-of-citizenship requirement. His office has said it found 32 non-citizens registered to vote in Kansas last year; he believes that's only a fraction of the non-citizens on the rolls, but there are no firm figures.
Kansas has 1.7 million registered voters. In the past decade, there have been fewer than 10 reported cases of non-citizens voting or attempting to vote.
Critics contend that such a small number of incidents doesn't justify changes that could block thousands of Kansas residents from registering. Kobach said the rule won't disenfranchise voters.
The House passed a version of Kobach's proof-of-citizenship proposal in February, but it remains stuck in the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee. Morris assigned the second version to the Federal and State Affairs Committee, where a majority of members either oppose or are skeptical of the proposal.
Kobach said Morris and his allies want to avoid an election-year vote against a popular measure.
“His actions go against the state's interests to protect a small number of liberal Republicans from their constituents,” Kobach said.
Morris noted that the state Division of Vehicles is undergoing a $40 million upgrade of the computer system that handles driver's licenses. The new system is designed to allow division offices to transfer electronic copies of birth certificates and other records used by drivers to verify their citizenship to election officials.
House Elections Committee Chairman Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, a Kobach ally, said lawmakers were increasingly skittish about making the change as the state's Aug. 7 primary election grew nearer.
“I told the secretary of state I didn't want to run it again because that would happen,” Schwab said of Morris' decision. “It's dead, absolutely dead.”
First version of Kobach's proposal is HB 2437. Second version is House Sub for SB 17.
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
Kansas secretary of state: http://www.kssos.org