Voter issues

Legislators should take a measured approach to new laws proposed in the name of protecting the state against voter fraud.

Even for those who favor requiring Kansas voters to show a photo ID at the polls, the legislation that passed the Kansas House last week includes some provisions that could raise concerns.

Several members of the Kansas Senate have expressed reservations about the bill, crafted by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, that would require ID at the polls and proof of citizenship at registration as well as giving Kobach’s office new power to enforce election laws. Senators are right to be cautious in moving the legislation forward.

Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican, indicated that the possible inconvenience of the proof-of-citizenship requirement will be a key issue. The bill calls for Kansas to issue free birth certificates to people who meet certain income guidelines, but that doesn’t help people who were born in other states. It says an out-of-state driver’s license can be used but only if the state issuing the license requires proof of citizenship for a license to be issued. How many states require that? Kansas requires “proof of identity” but not proof of citizenship to obtain a driver’s license.

Although the voter bill lists 13 documents that can be presented as proof of citizenship, the most expedient for most voters would be a birth certificate. Some people seeking to register could easily put their hands on a certified copy of their birth certificate, but many could not. Obtaining a copy would involve a fee for many people and would take some time — time during which a voter, if he or she had not planned ahead, might miss the registration deadline, meaning the person wouldn’t be eligible to vote.

Senators also should look carefully at provisions in the law that would give the secretary of state’s office the power to file and prosecute election fraud cases in state courts. At a time when many Americans and elected officials are trying to eliminate bureaucracy and duplication of services, why does Kansas need to create an enforcement arm in the secretary of state’s office when enforcement can be handled by the Kansas attorney general? Kobach is an attorney, who likely would relish taking these cases to court, but it’s not a good use of taxpayer money.

Even though there is no evidence Kansas has a widespread voter fraud problem, there’s nothing wrong with trying to make sure only legal, qualified voters are casting ballots. The trick, however, is to draw a tough line on potential illegal voters without setting standards that will make it more difficult for legal, qualified voters to get registered and vote in Kansas.

Everyone wants Kansas elections to be clean and fair. If fraud exists in our election system, it should be prosecuted and punished. At the same time, the state should do what it can to encourage qualified voters to participate in elections. Legislators should make sure that whatever new laws they approve to protect the integrity of Kansas elections don’t place undue restrictions on qualified voters who simply want to register and cast their ballots.