Topeka A computer upgrade project could present an obstacle to Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who wants a law requiring new voters to prove their U.S. citizenship to come into effect before this year's presidential election.
The new voter registration law is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2013, but Kobach wants to move that forward to June 15, arguing that the requirement should be in place ahead of the normal, anticipated surge in registrations before the presidential poll.
But the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee learned Wednesday that a key phase of a $40 million upgrade of the Department of Revenue's computers that handle motor vehicle and driver's license records won't be ready until at least Aug. 1.
Many senators have said they want a guarantee that the phase of the project will be completed, so they are assured the department's Division of Vehicles can transfer electronic copies of documents drivers used to prove their U.S. citizenship to election officials. Even some of Kobach's fellow Republicans on the committee have been cool toward Kobach's bill to accelerate the start of the proof-of-citizenship rule.
"I think it's common sense, if you don't have the computer system working that would provide for that transfer of material, it would be very difficult to proceed with a date change," said committee Chairwoman Terrie Huntington, a Fairway Republican.
Kobach has said the proof-of-citizenship rule will prevent illegal immigrants and other non-citizens from registering to vote, combatting election fraud. Critics contend the bill will suppress turnout, particularly among poor, minority, young and elderly voters.
The Senate committee scheduled a hearing Thursday on Kobach's bill, which passed the House last month, after which it was supposed to decide whether to forward the measure to the Senate for further action.
Kobach did not immediately respond to a cellphone message seeking comment, but he has said repeatedly that he doesn't think it's necessary for the department to finish the phase of the computer project dealing with driver's licenses to move up the effective date of the proof-of-citizenship rule. He said the computer upgrade will make the transfer of records to election officials slightly easier.
Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan had said he's confident the computer upgrades can be completed by June 15. He said Wednesday the delay doesn't necessary endanger Kobach's proposal.
"We're talking as to what we can and can't do," he said.
Part of the department's computer project is a response to a federal law pushing states to verify that residents are living in the U.S. legally before issuing them driver's licenses. Kansas already requires proof of legal status when it issues a new license, but with the computer upgrade, the same proof will be required the next time anyone in Kansas renews a license.