Topeka Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s proposal to require Kansas voters to show photo identification at the polls won first-round approval Tuesday in the state Senate, although other aspects of his plan to eliminate voter fraud were left out.
Senators advanced the measure on a voice vote and plan to take final action today. It still includes Kobach’s proposal to require people registering to vote for the first time in Kansas to produce a passport, birth certificate or other proof of citizenship, but senators would delay the rule until 2013, instead of starting it next year, as Kobach wants.
The Senate’s version of the bill also omits proposals from Kobach to increase penalties for election crimes and to give the secretary of state’s office the authority to file and prosecute voter fraud cases in state courts. The House’s version of the bill contains those provisions.
Still, Kobach said he’s pleased by the Senate’s action. Negotiators will have to resolve the two chambers’ differences, and a key senator said the work is likely to move the final version back toward what Kobach prefers, particularly on the proof-of-citizenship requirement.
“Kansas is one step closer to having the most secure elections in America,” Kobach said.
Kobach, a Republican, won last year’s election with 59 percent of the vote after making election fraud the key issue of his campaign. But he’s long faced skepticism that significant election fraud occurs in Kansas, and Democrats argue that his proposals will suppress turnout and decrease the number of registered voters.
“This is an onerous piece of legislation,” said Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat. “Creating that extra hurdle and that extra burden is absolutely wrong.”
The bill would make Kansas the 10th state with a requirement that voters show photo ID at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But Kobach contends Kansas would be ahead of all other states if it combines that requirement with a proof-of-citizenship rule and the other measures he proposed.
A Senate committee voted to delay the proof-of-citizenship requirement until 2013 to give the state time to conduct an educational campaign. Kobach opposed the move, and Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairwoman Terrie Huntington, of Fairway, told fellow GOP senators in a caucus Tuesday that she’ll work to eliminate the delay in negotiations with the House.
Kobach said after the Senate’s debate that it’s “outrageous” to claim that the bill will suppress turnout or voter registration because, “It suggests an ill intent.”
Backers of the bill said it includes provisions to prevent either from happening. For example, it requires the state to provide free non-driver IDs and allows people to bring a photo ID or documents proving their citizenship to election officials after they’ve gone to the polls or filled out a voter registration form.
Kobach released a study in January that said the secretary of state’s office has received 59 reports of alleged irregularities involving at least 221 ballots since 1997 — twice as many as documented by an internal report three years ago. The alleged irregularities don’t represent proven cases of voter fraud and are based on sometimes vague reports of wrongdoing.