Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has come up with yet another strategy in his ongoing effort to circumvent the spirit, if not the precise legal provisions, of federal voting laws.
His latest plan — recreating a dual registration system in which some voters would be eligible to vote in federal, but not state, elections — is the worst idea yet.
As confirmed in a recent Supreme Court ruling in an Arizona case, the federal “Motor Voter” law requires states to accept federal voter registration forms that people can file when they obtain or renew a driver’s license. The federal forms don’t require people to present documentation proving they are U.S. citizens. However, according to a law that went into effect Jan. 1, people registering to vote for the first time in Kansas must prove they are citizens. The law was pushed by Kobach as necessary to prevent voter fraud, although there are only a handful of attempted fraud cases on record in the state.
The conflict between the two laws already has created a bottleneck that may prevent thousands of Kansans from participating in upcoming elections. Driver’s license bureaus around the state are accepting federal voting registration forms but taking no responsibility for verifying citizenship before they forward the forms to Kobach’s office. As of last week, applications from some 13,000 people who believe they are now fully registered to vote were being held “in suspense” by the secretary of state because those applications include no proof of citizenship.
Rather than deal directly with that situation, Kobach now is suggesting the state could set up a system whereby all the people who have registered without proving citizenship would be eligible to vote in federal, but not state or local, elections. Kobach apparently is completely giving up on fixing the registration system that he promised legislators would seamlessly move voter registrations from the driver’s license bureaus to county election offices.
The plan also raises many other questions. Has Kobach calculated how much it will cost counties to conduct an election in which they must provide separate ballots for federal voters and state voters? How about all the people who think they are properly registered and arrive at the polls only to find out they can’t cast a ballot in a state election? How can a move like this not be viewed as an effort to suppress some segment of the popular vote?
As a former law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kobach may be intrigued by the legal challenge of having Kansas set a new precedent on voter registration. Kansans, on the other hand, probably are more interested in promoting voter participation in the democratic process than on serving as a guinea pig for Kobach’s legal experiments.