Politics & Government

Kobach defends new voting rule

Secretary of State Kris Kobach pushed back against criticism of a new Kansas voting rule on Wednesday, dismissing claims that the rule is meant to help Republican incumbents.

The temporary rule, approved by the State Rules and Regulations Board on Tuesday, will allow 17,000 Kansans who failed to provide proof of citizenship when they registered at the Department of Motor Vehicles to vote in federal elections this August and November.

It will, however, continue to bar them from participating in state and local races.

There are multiple pending lawsuits in state and federal court concerning the state’s requirement that people provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, when they register to vote.

The new rule is meant to put the state in compliance with a recent federal court order to allow people who registered under the DMV under the federal motor-voter law to vote regardless of whether they provided proof of citizenship. Kobach’s office is appealing that ruling.

Kobach said the plaintiffs knew that their suit was based on a law that "only concerned federal elections.”

“They were lucky to get a judge who agreed with their skewed view of that federal law, but the federal law never even mentions state or local elections, and it’s clear it only applies to federal (races), so they knew that if they got an injunction, it would only concern federal elections,” Kobach said. “Now, they’re trying to claim that you have to throw in state and local elections, too, but of course that would blow a huge hole in our proof-of-citizenship law and essentially nullify it.”

Mark Johnson, an attorney for suspended voters suing the state, said that excluding these voters from state and local races could run afoul of a previous ruling by a Shawnee County judge that said Kobach lacked the authority to create a “two-tiered voting system.”

Kobach rejected that logic.

“Judge (Franklin) Theis’ state ruling is irrelevant to this,” he said. “Judge Theis’ ruling concerns the federal form, people who register using the federal form. This case concerns people who register using the DMV, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the federal form.”

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, one of Kobach’s harshest critics, called this a frivolous argument.

“I think Judge Theis was quite clear denying this dual voting system, and I think he walks a very dangerous line disregarding that,” he said.

Ward has said Kobach is trying to boost Republican incumbents when all 165 seats in the Legislature are up for election this year, a claim Kobach called “absolutely ridiculous.”

“It’s approximately 1 percent of voters who will be affected by this,” he said. “There is no way of knowing whether those individuals will be voting Republican or voting Democrat.”

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3