Topeka — Kansas Senate leaders suggested Friday that a requirement for people who register to vote for the first time in the state to prove they’re citizens will receive close scrutiny as the chamber considers Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s election fraud legislation.
A bill containing Kobach’s proposed Secure and Fair Elections Act won House approval on an 83-36 vote Friday, sending it to the Senate.
The measure also would require voters to show photo identification at the polls, increase penalties for election crimes and enact changes designed to make mail ballots more secure. It would give the secretary of state’s office the power to file and prosecute election fraud cases in state courts, along with county prosecutors and the attorney general’s office.
The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee plans to have a briefing from legislative researchers on election fraud and voter ID issues Thursday. Chairwoman Terrie Huntington, a Fairway Republican, said she’ll schedule hearings as soon as possible after that.
“I do have one concern about those who move from another state,” Huntington said. “They move to the state of Kansas, and now we have this new voter registration program, and they’re not familiar with it.”
The measure’s enactment would make Kansas the 10th state with a photo ID law, but Kobach said the requirement, combined with the proof of citizenship rule and other provisions in the bill, would give the state the strongest election fraud laws in the nation.
Opponents, mostly Democrats, argue that Kobach’s proposals would seriously hamper efforts to register voters door to door or at sites such as libraries and grocery stores. They also contend that thousands of Kansas residents either won’t be able to vote or will have their votes not counted because of the requirements.
Kobach’s proposals also draw criticism because of his conservative Republican politics. He’s a Kansas City-area law professor on leave, known nationally for advising city officials and legislators in other states about cracking down on illegal immigration. He also helped draft the immigration law Arizona enacted last year.
Critics of his proposals also question whether Kansas has a significant election fraud problem. Last month, he issued a report saying the secretary of state’s office had received 59 reports of alleged irregularities involving at least 221 ballots since 1997, though he suggested those reports represent perhaps only 10 percent of what’s actually occurred.
Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican, said the possible inconvenience of a proof-of-citizenship requirement will be a key issue.
“At this point, nobody has said that’s going to kill the bill,” Emler said. “They’ve expressed that as a concern that they want to talk about.”
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat who’s strongly opposed such measures in the past, said the proof-of-citizenship requirement will be “a big impediment” to people registering.
Kobach said opponents are exaggerating the difficulties facing people who’d want to register for the first time in Kansas. The bill lists 13 documents that can provide proof of citizenship, including a passport, a birth certificate or a driver’s license from any state that requires such proof of citizenship to get it.
The measure calls for the state to issue free birth certificates to people who are receiving social services or who meet certain income guidelines, if they want to use the certificate to register to vote. Kobach said he doubts people who move to Kansas will have trouble getting certificates from their home states if they don’t have them.
“Most states make it easy,” he said.