TOPEKA — The secretary of state and the ranking Democrat on the House Elections Committee traded jabs Monday over a bill to force new voter registrants to prove their citizenship and to require all voters to provide photo identification.
Several proponents of the proposed voter ID law, House Bill 2067, addressed the committee in the first of at least two days of hearings.
Among them were the election commissioners of Johnson and Wyandotte counties, and a woman who served as a Sedgwick County poll worker. She testified she had witnessed numerous irregularities involving provisional ballots.
The bill is the centerpiece of newly elected Secretary of State Kris Kobach's quest to secure the election process against what he believes to be widespread fraud and voting by noncitizens.
The bill would require that all voters — at the polls or absentee — provide election officials with government-issued photo ID to cast their ballots every time they vote.
In addition, new voters would be required to provide evidence of citizenship — such as a passport, birth certificate or tribal ID — when they register. In some cases, such as married women who changed their names, multiple documents could be required.
Opponents of the bill did not testify Monday. However, Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, challenged Kobach's assertion that the proof-of-citizenship requirements had been successfully implemented in two states, Arizona and Georgia.
She pointed out that Georgia needed Justice Department approval for its system and that Arizona's law is on hold after a federal circuit court panel struck it down.
Because Georgia is one of the Southern states with a history of suppressing black voters, any changes in its voting laws require federal approval.
"Georgia is one of those states that has such bad election laws, they can't even pass one without getting it pre-approved by the Department of Justice," Mah said.
Replied Kobach, "It's not that they have such bad election laws, it's that Georgia was generally referred to as the Old South and it's part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965."
"The latest information I have heard is that... the Department of Justice of the Obama administration recently gave pre-clearance to Georgia and that they've moved ahead with implementation," he said.
"So what you call successful implementation is the bill was finally pre-approved by the Department of Justice, not that they've actually tried it?" Mah asked.
Kobach replied that although there haven't been any elections since the Georgia law gained approval, that doesn't mean it hasn't been implemented.
"They are actually receiving applications for voter registration and registering people — again this is registration, not an election," he said.
When Kobach started to suggest that Arizona would be a better example, Mah interrupted.
"I have a note here from October that their law was invalidated by an appeals court, so you're saying the appeals court's (decision has) been overturned since the end of October?" Mah said.
Kobach acknowledged that the law is not in effect right now, although he said it was for about three years before the most recent decision striking it down.
"Right now, the 9th Circuit will have to sort itself out," he said.
Kobach said in 2007, a three-judge panel upheld the law. In 2010, it was struck down by a different three-judge panel.
Kobach said the litigants have appealed for review by the full court.
"The latest decision ruled against it, the first decision ruled in favor of it," Kobach said.
"I just found it curious you didn't mention that," Mah replied.
Earlier in the hearing, Rep. Mike Burgess, D-Topeka, testified that he thinks the idea of showing ID at the polls will be popular with voters.
Lawmakers are allowed to serve as poll workers in precincts outside their own district, and Burgess said he did that at a Shawnee County precinct last year.
He said many voters — he estimated as many as one in three — asked which ID they would need to show and were dismayed that all they had to do was state their name and address. He said many insisted on showing ID, even though it wasn't required.
After the hearing, Rep. Melody McCray-Miller, D-Wichita, said she doubts that was a widespread phenomenon.
She said she spent election day as a poll observer. Asked how many people at her polling site inquired about or indicated they wanted to show ID, she replied, "None. Not one."
The hearing room was packed to standing-room-only capacity. The session ended abruptly when a woman fainted after standing near the door at the back of the room for an extended period.
Kobach was taking questions on the bill at the time and is expected to return to the podium when the hearing continues Wednesday.
Both the House and Senate have passed similar measures in the past few years. In 2008, the bill passed both chambers but was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has indicated he will sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.