Topeka Secretary of State Kris Kobach's proposal to require some new Kansas voters to prove their U.S. citizenship ahead of this year's presidential election may die this year without a vote in the state Senate.
Testimony from opponents took up most of Thursday's meeting of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, preventing a vote on a bill pushed by Kobach to impose the proof-of-citizenship rule June 15 for people registering in the state for the first time. Kansas already has such a requirement, but it's not set to take effect until Jan. 1, 2013.
It was the committee's last scheduled meeting of the year, and Chairwoman Terrie Huntington, a Fairway Republican, said she's not sure she'll be able to schedule another. Committee members, even Kobach's fellow Republicans, already were cool to the bill, which passed the House last month.
Kobach argues the rule will prevent illegal immigrants and other non-citizens from registering, combatting election fraud, and should be in place before the normal surge in voter registration in the months before the presidential contest. Critics contend that neither the state nor potential voters are ready for such a change this year and argue it will suppress turnout, particularly among poor, minority and elderly voters.
And those critics may have succeeded, inadvertently, in talking the bill to death. Given an opportunity to speak first because many were from outside Topeka, their presentations took up about 50 minutes of the committee's normal hour. Kobach and county officials backing the bill had about 10 minutes, and by the end of their testimony, six of the committee's nine members had left for other meetings.
Asked about another committee meeting, Huntington said, "I don't know if that's a possibility."
But Kobach said scheduling another meeting shouldn't be a problem, even if committee members have to meet quickly in a hallway, as they occasionally do when lawmakers are busy. He said his proposal is simple and doesn't require much additional debate.
"If the committee members are willing to protect the integrity of Kansas voter rolls, they could easily meet tomorrow, vote and move this bill to the floor of the Senate," he said.
Some senators, including Huntington, had said their vote depended on whether the state Division of Vehicles would be ready by June 15 to start automatically transferring to election officials electronic copies of documents people submitted to verify their citizenship when seeking or renewing driver's licenses.
Huntington held up hearings on Kobach's bill to wait for that information, and the committee learned Wednesday that the necessary computer upgrades wouldn't be done until Aug. 1. Kobach responded with proposed amendments to his bill, but critics said it was another demonstration that the state shouldn't rush the proof-of-citizenship requirement.
Louis Goseland, coordinator of KanVote, a Wichita-based group opposed to Kobach's proposal, gave the committee petitions signed by about 3,500 people opposed to the bill. He said critics weren't trying to run out the legislative clock on Kobach's proposal in Thursday's hearing.
"There were people from around the state who packed that hearing room, and that's just a sign of the opposition toward rushing this bill," he said.