Politics & Government

Idea could make voting easier, but faces Kobach opposition

Voting-rights advocates are floating a proposal that could make it easier to vote, but the state’s top election official is dead-set against it, raising the possibility of voter fraud.

The idea is election-day registration, a system used by 16 states and the District of Columbia, where voters can register or update their voting information at the polling place on election day.

“All the states that have election-day registration are at the top of voter turnout,” voting-rights expert Kevin Kennedy said in the keynote speech at “Democracy Tomorrow,” a daylong voting-rights seminar held Friday at Wichita State University’s Hughes Metropolitan Complex.

About 10 to 15 percent of voters take advantage of the same-day option in the states that have it, Kennedy said. It especially attracts late deciders, who may not think about voting until the election is upon them, he said.

While some election officials consider those voters to be lazy, “I’m thinking they’re busy,” he said.

Any proposal for same-registration and voting faces significant hurdles in Kansas, especially from Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Kobach, an elections adviser to President Trump, wrote an opinion piece for the Breitbart Web site Thursday asserting that same-day registration may have cost Trump a win in New Hampshire in last year’s election.

“(It’s) possible that New Hampshire’s four electoral college votes were swung to Hillary Clinton through illegal voting by nonresidents,” Kobach wrote. “Clinton won New Hampshire by only 2,732 votes.”

Bryan Caskey, Kobach’s election director, said same-day registration would be “inconsistent with some of the other security efforts he (Kobach) has put in place to prevent voter fraud.”

Chief among those is a system where Kansas requires prospective voters to prove citizenship with documents beyond a driver’s license, such as a passport or birth certificate.

Caskey also said it wouldn’t give election officials time to mail verification letters to voters. Voters get taken off the roll when those come back as “undeliverable” by the Post Office, he said.

Kennedy, the voting-rights speaker, has long experience with election-day registration. He served 37 years as Wisconsin’s top elections and political ethics official until last year, when state legislators dismantled the state’s Governmental Accountablity Board.

He acknowledged there are challenges and extra work for election officials in administering such a system but said, “I think the answer is yes, it is worth it.”

State Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said he thinks election-day registration would go a long way toward making Kansas elections fairer.

He said the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirements have disenfrachised at least 30,000 registrants whose voting privileges were suspended because they didn’t produce the required documentation.

He said the state should balance the thousands of lost legitimate voters against “a few slipping through on election day.”

“There’s no good reason to put citizens through the hurdles and hassles that Kansas does,” he said.

However, he said any bill to change the system would “likely be dead on arrival” with the current makeup of the Legislature.

And the chance of passing an election-day registration bill in the 2019 session depends on who Kansans pick as governor and legislators in state elections next year, Carmichael said.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas