Eagle editorial: Defend voting rights

Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature share blame for the fouled-up voter-registration system in Kansas.
Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature share blame for the fouled-up voter-registration system in Kansas. AP

How disappointing that in a 2,866-word State of the State address quoting the Kansas Constitution’s statement that “all political power is inherent in the people,” Gov. Sam Brownback failed to speak up for the 20,000 people in Kansas whose voter registrations are stalled. At least the U.S. Election Assistance Commission mentioned them in its ruling Friday.

Kansas, Arizona and Georgia wanted the commission to provide an instruction on the federal voter-registration form regarding their requirements that those registering in their states provide proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate or passport. Since the Kansas law went into effect in January 2013, more than 20,100 applicants have seen their voter registrations put on a suspense list for lack of paperwork.

The EAC staff ruling denying the states’ requests said Congress specifically considered and rejected requiring such documentation when passing the National Voter Registration Act in 1993. “Such burdens do not enhance voter participation, and they could result in a decrease in overall registration of eligible citizens,” the ruling said. It pointed to Kansas’ lengthening list of applicants placed in suspense status, saying the requirements risk discouraging voter-registration drives.

The agency also noted that states have databases and other means to identify noncitizens and enforce citizenship rules without requiring additional information from applicants.

In response, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said that “the EAC has no authority to second-guess the policy decisions of the sovereign states of Kansas and Arizona,” vowing to press ahead in defense of Kansas’ law in federal court.

He also has contemplated allowing Kansans who registered using the federal form, which asks people to swear they are citizens, to vote only in presidential and congressional elections while denying them the right to vote in state and local races.

Pity the poll workers who’d be expected to enforce Kobach’s selective definition of voting rights, and the wannabe voters expected to understand how it is that a lifelong U.S. citizen could be ineligible to vote in Kansas.

Kobach has said that the law is “working exactly as the Legislature and I expected. Some people take their time completing their voting registrations and some don’t.”

But surely Brownback and the GOP-led Legislature can see the problem with going into this election year with thousands of Kansans at risk of being denied their constitutional right to vote – all because of Kobach’s fearmongering about voter fraud.

They deserve just as much blame as Kobach does for the fouled-up voter-registration system in Kansas – and should recognize their responsibility to defend voting rights by scrapping the proof-of-citizenship law.

“The government is back in its proper place – serving the people,” Brownback claimed in his speech last week. But in this case the government is ill-serving people by blocking them from voting.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman