If the state had an urgent problem with voter fraud, there would be a reason to rush new regulations on voter registration into effect.
Because there is little evidence of a serious voter fraud problem in the state, it would be better to take our time and get the new system right.
At the urging of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, legislation was approved last year to add two requirements for Kansas voters. The first requirement, that voters show photo identification at the polls, went into effect on Jan. 1 of this year. The second requirement, that voters show proof of citizenship when they register to vote, is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2013. However, Kobach continues to push legislators to move the implementation of the citizenship provision up so that it takes effect on June 15 of this year, ahead of the August primary and November general election.
Although a number of smaller elections will be held before August, the primary will be the first time election officials in many counties will be enforcing the ID requirement at the polls. It makes sense to let election officials work out the kinks in the voter ID system before adding the requirement for people to show proof of citizenship when registering.
The Revenue Department’s Division of Vehicles currently is working on computer upgrades that will allow it to scan and store documents such as birth certificates and passports that can be used to prove citizenship. Once that system is operational, people will be able to register to vote when they renew their driver’s licenses and local election officials across the state will be able to use the Division of Vehicles’ database to verify citizenship. It was reported earlier this month that the computer upgrade was ahead of schedule and might be available in time to meet Kobach’s preferred June 15 implementation date for the new voter registration requirements.
That’s great, but almost any computer upgrade of this magnitude is bound to have some bugs that must be worked out. Implementing the new voter registration laws before the computer system is running smoothly will be a headache for election officials and perhaps an impediment for would-be voters.
Nationwide, some officials are concerned that new state voting requirements may suppress the vote, which is of particular concern in the 2012 presidential election. The timing of implementing Kansas’ new proof-of-citizenship law shouldn’t be a political issue. On Monday, Kobach reported that a review of the 2010 election revealed 41 cases of suspected voter fraud, none of which has been prosecuted, along with 32 instances in which noncitizens may be mistakenly registered to vote. Those cases should be pursued, but they don’t indicate such a serious problem that the state should rush the implementation of new voting provisions.
Implementing the law on Jan. 1, 2013, will give the state the time it needs to get this right.