Eagle editorial: More voter suppression to come

Nearly 18,000 Kansans have had their voting registrations placed in suspension.
Nearly 18,000 Kansans have had their voting registrations placed in suspension.

Though Secretary of State Kris Kobach likes to say that the law he pushed made it “easy to vote but hard to cheat,” Kansas actually has made it harder to register and to vote by treating constitutionally eligible voters like cheaters. At least some judges are concerned about the consequences of such legislation, in sharp contrast to Kobach and other state leaders.

The Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act required that registered voters show government-issued photo ID at the polling place as of 2012 and that those wishing to register to vote provide documentary proof of citizenship as of 2013.

The voter-ID provision seems like common sense to most people in the 21st century, but its impact is troubling. It meant that more than 500 ballots went uncounted statewide in the 2012 election – not because they were fraudulent but because the voters lacked the right ID at the polls and didn’t follow up before the results were finalized.

The proof-of-citizenship requirement risks being far more dramatic in suppressing voter participation, with missing documentation having stalled the registrations of nearly 18,000 Kansans even as the 2014 primary and general elections draw near. Yet Kobach told a Senate committee early this year that the 72 percent of Kansans (52,000 people) who tried to register to vote last year and who met the proof-of-citizenship requirement and completed their registrations was “an extraordinarily high percentage.”

So much for the other 28 percent. If Election Day comes and goes and they didn’t or couldn’t produce the birth certificate or other approved document, their lost votes apparently won’t be missed – at least by state leaders who just concluded the year’s legislative session without showing a trace of concern for the voting rights of these fellow Kansans.

One has to look beyond Kansas’ borders for hope.

It was the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that last week temporarily stayed U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren’s March ruling that the federal voter-registration form be modified right away to reflect the proof-of-citizenship requirements in Arizona as well as Kansas. Though most Kansans register using the state forms, the appellate court’s stay at least maintains the status quo for now.

It was in Pennsylvania where the governor last week declined to fight a state court’s decision that a voter-ID law was unconstitutional because “there is no legal, non-burdensome provision of a compliant photo ID to all qualified electors.”

It was in Wisconsin where a federal judge recently struck down a voter-ID law as violating both the equal-protection clause of the Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and in Arkansas where a judge struck down a voter-ID law as violating the state constitution (while leaving it in effect for upcoming elections). The Justice Department is pursuing cases over similar requirements in Texas and North Carolina.

“A person would have to be insane to commit voter-impersonation fraud,” wrote federal Judge Lynn Adelman in the Wisconsin decision, contrasting an offender’s tough potential punishment with the minimal potential gain. He concluded that the law “will prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes.”

It’s clear that’s already the case in Kansas, with much more voter suppression to come.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman