Opinion Columns & Blogs

Bonita Gooch: Go the extra mile to protect right to vote


The Legislature, encouraged by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has gone a long way to make sure our voting polls are safe from voter fraud. Now we’re asking the Legislature to go that same extra mile to protect the rights of legal Kansas citizens to vote.

What we’ve found is that the process to catch a few fraudulent voters has deterred thousands of Kansans from participating in what I believe is one of their greatest rights as a citizen.

Last year, Kobach announced plans to dispense with nearly 37,000 voter registrations that were being held in suspense because the individuals failed to turn in their proof of citizenship. Most of these individuals were young first-time voters whom we should be encouraging to participate in the process. Instead, we’re turning them away.

What we’re proposing is a workaround within the confines of the Secure and Fair Elections Act, the Kansas law that requires proof of citizenship. Currently, Kansas closes voter registration 20 days before an election. We’re proposing the adoption of a bill allowing same-day voter registration, and here’s how it helps:

Many of these young people sign up at voter-registration drives held at colleges, churches or community events where they most likely don’t have their proof of citizenship readily available. It’s the second step, going back to turn in the proof of citizenship, that’s the hang-up. What the same-day voter-registration bill does is allow these young people, on Election Day or advance voting days, to show up at the poll with their voter-registration form, ID and proof of citizenship. They can register, provide proof of citizenship and vote all in one step.

With today’s hectic schedule, who couldn’t appreciate and benefit from this one-step process?

Same-day voter registration has been practiced in the United States since the 1970s. Fifteen states plus the District of Columbia have allowed same-day voter registration. In those states, voter participation runs consistently 12 percent higher than in states without same-day voter registration.

Note, the bill does not ignore the SAFE Act; it works within the SAFE Act.

States including Kansas that establish arbitrary voter-registration cutoff dates dissuade participation in the voting process when people are most excited about them. This bill also helps individuals with limited transportation by allowing them to take care of all of their voting actions in one trip.

Without reading the bill, Kobach and several legislators proclaimed the bill “a recipe for voter fraud,” saying people could run from poll to poll and vote. If they had read the bill first, they would find numerous steps built in to address these concerns. The bill lays out an extensive process to set aside ballots of individuals who register and vote on the same day to check for issues such as votes cast in multiple locations.

Again, I think it’s time we do something for – instead of against – legal Kansas citizens by doing all we can to encourage their lawful participation in their greatest right as a citizen, their right to vote.

If you support this measure, please e-mail your local legislators or the chairmen of the elections committees, Rep. Mark Kahrs, R-Wichita, at Mark.Kahrs@house.ks.gov and Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, at Mitch.Holmes@senate.ks.gov.

Bonita Gooch of Wichita is a member of the Kansas Black Leadership Council.