Elections

Mah, Kobach resume their debate of voter ID proposal

TOPEKA — Rep. Ann Mah and Secretary of State Kris Kobach continued their weather-delayed debate Friday over how much proof of identity Kansans will have to provide to register to vote and to cast their ballots.

In a House Elections Committee hearing, Mah, D-Topeka, pounded the proposed voter-ID law that Kobach, a Republican, has introduced.

She says its provisions for proving citizenship are excessively cumbersome and would virtually shut down sidewalk-style registration drives by requiring new registrants to provide copies of their birth certificates and/or other documents.

Kobach and Mah, the ranking Democrat on the House Elections Committee, had their back-and-forth debate shut down Monday when a woman fainted after standing for an extended time in the crowded hearing room. The hearing was supposed to continue Wednesday but was snowed out.

Both Mah and Kobach took advantage of the delay to reload their arguments.

Responding to Mah's last line of questioning from Monday, Kobach said he had contacted Georgia and confirmed that that state's voter ID requirements — right now the strictest being enforced in the nation — had recently been cleared by the Justice Department.

As a southern state with a history of suppressing black voters, Georgia is required by federal law to obtain clearance for any changes in its election law.

Mah said she had also contacted Georgia and found its requirements for proving citizenship to be much more convenient for voters than the system Kobach proposes.

She said she discovered that all Georgia required for registration was that potential voters write their driver's license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on the registration form. She said she didn't have a problem with that.

But she said the Georgia election official she spoke with was surprised to learn that Kansas was considering a bill requiring people to send in copies of citizenship documents with their registration forms.

"You know what she said? 'You're kidding,' " Mah said. "I said 'I wish I was.' "

Kobach replied that Georgia could rely on that system because it had already implemented requirements that drivers provide citizenship proof to the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.

He said Kansas is phasing that in and should have scanned copies of everyone's birth certificates in DMV records in about seven years, at which time the system could be changed to not require people to provide actual documents as they register.

"Is it identical to Georgia, no," Kobach said. "Does it use the same principles? Yes."

Mah later said she had checked with the state DMV and found it had no plan to collect everyone's birth certificates. Instead, she said, the agency is collecting birth certificates of those seeking a driver's license for the first time.

House Democrats know that they cannot stop the voter ID bill, as they did when they had the governor's office and 49 of the 125 representatives, compared with their current 33.

Now, their focus has shifted to trying to mold the legislation to delete requirements that they call the most inconvenient for voters and the most likely to depress turnout.

Mah said she supports the concept of proof of ID and citizenship to vote.

"I think what I have a problem with is that this (proposed) law is the worst way to go about it I've ever seen," she said.

Kobach, however, said he checked DMV records and found there are already more driver's licenses and non-driver ID's in circulation than there are estimated eligible voters.

"It appears we don't have any unlicensed people walking around Kansas, that they know of," he said.

The hearing is scheduled to continue Wednesday, when opponents of the bill — including the League of Women Voters, the NAACP and the National Organization for Women — will give their testimony.

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