Opinion: Registering should be easy

August 7, 2013


All Americans should be able to vote — the most basic right in our democracy — without having to jump through a bureaucratic maze. Yet Secretary of State Kris Kobach persists in his ongoing effort to make voting more difficult by suggesting a “fix” to a law he authored that requires voters to document citizenship.

Kobach proposes to create a two-tiered voting system, where some voters would be eligible to vote in federal elections but not in state and local elections (“Kobach considering plan that could produce two kinds of voters,” Journal-World, July 31).

His plan violates the intent of the National Voter Registration Act, would be burdensome to implement and costly to taxpayers, and harkens back to a regrettable history of voter suppression in the United States.

The very purpose of the National Voter Registration Act is to make registering to vote easy and convenient. Kobach’s proposal does the exact opposite by introducing more complexity into an already confusing voting system. Mistakes are bound to happen. You don’t have to look any farther than the 12,000-plus Kansans whose registrations are in suspense to know that there are going to be some who do everything right but still end up disfranchised because of an unnecessarily complicated system.

Furthermore, implementing Kobach’s proposal would be unnecessarily burdensome to local election administrators and would add to the cost of keeping, maintaining, and verifying voter registration lists throughout the state. It would also require printing two separate ballots, further increasing costs.

Dual registration systems have a long and sad history in the U.S. The last state to maintain one was Mississippi. It adopted its dual registration system and poll taxes in the 1890 Mississippi Constitution as a way to make registration more complicated, with the express purpose of keeping as many African-Americans and poor people from registering to vote as possible. By the 1980s, the dual registration system was still in effect and still had its original intended purpose of disproportionately disfranchising Black voters, leading a federal court to declare that the system violated the Voting Rights Act.

In advancing his latest proposal Mr. Kobach wants to climb out of a box of his own making: an unduly complicated voting system largely of his design that discourages participation in our electoral process.

We should instead strengthen our democracy by making the voting system more transparent and simple.

— Gary Brunk is a Lawrence resident and executive director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri.

— Gary Brunk is a Lawrence resident and executive director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri.


Pheps 4 years, 8 months ago

Perspective please.

"The history of voting in the United States has not been characterized by a smooth and inexorable progress toward universal political participation. It has instead been much messier, littered with periods of both expansion and retraction of the franchise with respect to many groups of potential voters."


MarcoPogo 4 years, 8 months ago

"President Obama's Jay Leno appearance should seal the deal with Iran's new leader. I mean, what foreign leader wouldn't respect a President going on a comedy show? Nixon appeared on Laugh-in. Look what it did for him and China."

Good point.

weeslicket 4 years, 8 months ago

the above link being from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation "That the future may learn from the past"

perhaps (some)one ought to read the article, or else (some)one might belive that the wobbly arc of american voting practices moves towards greater disenfranchisement of its peoples. reading the article may disabuse (some)one of that notion.

(i think the ben franklin quote was especially pithy)

George Lippencott 4 years, 8 months ago

Absolutely and proving that you are a citizen as required by the constitution should be a one time part of it. Remember that we have a duty to preserve the integrity of the process to protect our franchise.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

None that I'm aware of.

However, since voting in American elections is the right of American citizens, then it would make sense to ensure that non-citizens aren't voting.

kochmoney 4 years, 8 months ago

It would make sense if non-citizen voting were shown to be a problem (it isn't) and the solution for this non-problem didn't deliberately disenfranchise eligible voters.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

It makes sense to ensure that only citizens vote, in my opinion.

Whether or not voter fraud by non citizens is a real issue isn't clear to me, as we haven't set up a lot of ways to catch it.

It also makes sense to make sure that eligible voters can vote.

For me, the left is concerned with the latter, and the right with the former, so nobody gets it right - they're both important, and necessary, in order for our system to work the way it's supposed to work.

chootspa 4 years, 8 months ago

Where are the droves of non-citizen voters if "the left" has gotten it so so wrong with this idea of encouraging wider voter participation? Even advocates for voter ID laws can't produce evidence that this is some sort of widespread problem.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

If we're not checking ID's and citizenship, then it's very hard to find the evidence of fraud.

And, I didn't say the left gets it wrong by encouraging wider participation, I said they get it wrong by not being concerned about voter fraud. For our system to work as intended, we need much larger turnouts and participation by citizens. We also need non citizens not to vote.

Also, of course, it would be better if voters were well informed and educated.

deec 4 years, 8 months ago

I believe the left is deeply concerned about voter fraud. Only its the Diebold, random disenfranchisement kind. It's things like relatives of presidential candidates holding executive positions with companies that provide software and security for or count computerized votes. It's government-generated lists of unqualified voters who just happen to belong to one party. Worrying about the mythical alien voter, not so much.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

All also worthy issues to be considered, in my opinion.

I just don't believe these sorts of things are "either or" propositions.

And, as long as people make them into that, we have gridlock. For me, it's easy to avoid - any time the "other side" brings up an issue I consider worth considering, I say "Yes, and..." instead of "No, but..."

chootspa 4 years, 8 months ago

There's very little reward in fraudulent in-person voting even in systems where you just ask for a signature. Even if you were outright paying someone for their vote, you have no guarantee that they'd vote the way you paid them to vote, and if they showed up at the same polling place twice, someone would notice. Lots of effort. Little reward. There are far more efficient ways to throw an election.

The real fraud is either committed by people (or machines) who count the votes or have the ability to block opposing votes before they cast a ballot. Real fraud has been committed by people who put the wrong address and date on absentee ballot registrations or refuse to turn in valid registrations for the opposing side. The ones we should be fighting are the ones who robocall and intentionally give out the wrong date for the election or tell people "We won. You don't need to vote now." Where is the Republican uproar and ALEC model legislation over that kind of fraud?

THAT is how the integrity of an election is compromised. Not with this magical unicorn that you cannot seen and therefore cannot disprove concept of undocumented aliens showing up at polls and risking deportation because they might get to be the 23432432th vote for Obama that year.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

You can continue to dismiss those concerns, but I find that a very bad way to proceed, that just leads to opposition and gridlock.

If one is really concerned about the integrity of our voting systems, then one is concerned about it in numerous ways, including the ones you mention, and also the ones I've mentioned.

But, when it turns into a partisan battle, then it's not useful.

chootspa 4 years, 8 months ago

I would be concerned about it if it were shown to be a problem. It's not a problem, no matter how hypothetically you think it could be a problem. It makes no sense for this to be an actual problem. Too much effort, too little reward. If there were a scrap of evidence of this being an actual problem, I guarantee you they'd have found proof.

I'm not a member of any party. I think they're both hopelessly tied to big money donor interests and not the actual work of the people, and we'd be better off throwing the lot out. This isn't a partisan battle for me. This is about justice. This is about marginalized people who barely participate in the system as it is being deliberately kicked out in order to stifle their voices.

This particular matter has been shown by the very mouths of the Republicans who support it to be only about suppressing votes, not about preserving the integrity of anything. In states where these laws were enacted, including this one, there are lots of legitimate voters who have been disenfranchised. I'd be just as angry if it were the Democrats who supported rules that driver's licenses had to be current and legal and that all votes had to be in-person (and thus suppressing the vote of the conservative elderly) for example.

We can have the "idea" that showing an ID to vote is a good thing, but until the actual system of doing so is not designed to further marginalize voters, no matter how lowly, poor, elderly, or whatever they are, the actual practice is designed out of oppression and not protection. It's designed to solve a problem that DOES NOT EXIST in any sort of scale that would swing an election. Well, that's not entirely true. It's designed to solve the problem of increasing minority voters by making it harder for them to register to vote but using the excuse of "voter integrity" to do so.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

And how do you think that we could get to a system designed as you suggest?

I say not by dismissing the concerns, but by aligning with them. Then, we can work together to ensure that the practical application is better.

For me, it's easy. I want the system to work as it should, so I support any and all ideas that will lead to that outcome. So, if people express concerns about non citizens voting, I can easily join them, and say "Yes, I'm also very concerned about the integrity of our elections - let's work together to ensure that". Then, that opens the door for all of the other concerns to come in as well.

At the very least, it will show whether or not the person expressing the concerns really wants the system to work right or not, in which case their real agenda is thrown into strong relief.

And, at best, it sets up a situation where people can work together to make sure our elections work the way they're supposed to work.

chootspa 4 years, 8 months ago

Having an ID or a birth certificate are not requirements for being a US Citizen, so they shouldn't be a requirement for voting eligibility.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

That doesn't really make sense.

How would you go about ensuring that only citizens exercise rights intended for them? Let's use another right, the right to bear arms based on the 2nd amendment. Would you support or oppose efforts to ensure that gun buyers show proof of citizenship?

Most people seem to go different ways on the two rights, which I don't understand. For me they're very analogous.

ebyrdstarr 4 years, 8 months ago

The right to bear arms isn't limited to citizens. Most rights in the BoR aren't limited to citizens.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

Then the federal law that makes it illegal to sell guns to illegal immigrants would be unconstitutional - do you think it is?

I think it's common sense that the founders intended to establish rights for citizens of this country when they wrote the constitution. Do you know of any source that would show otherwise, that "the people" in the constitution was intended for a wider group of people?

Kate Rogge 4 years, 8 months ago

I've never had to prove a darn thing to cast my vote before the Republicans went stark raving crazy. What is wrong with you people? Have you no control over the Kobachs in your party?

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

Why would you assume I'm a Republican?

I find the arbitrary assignment of certain ideas to certain political parties to be unhelpful, and inaccurate.

Politics isn't a competitive sport either, so this constant "us and them" mentality and competition is also unhelpful, as far as I can tell.

We should be examining ideas on their own merit, and combining good ideas from whatever sources we find.

chootspa 4 years, 8 months ago

Sure. We also need to stop assuming that the middle ground is always the correct place to be.

Liberty275 4 years, 8 months ago

§ 1: Qualifications of electors. Every citizen of the United States who has attained the age of eighteen years and who resides in the voting area in which he or she seeks to vote shall be deemed a qualified elector. Laws of this state relating to voting for residential electors and candidates for the office of president and vice-president of the United States shall comply with the laws of the United States relating thereto. A citizen of the United States, who is otherwise qualified to vote in Kansas for presidential electors and candidates for the offices of president and vice-president of the United States may vote for such officers either in person or by absentee ballot notwithstanding the fact that such person may have become a nonresident of this state if his or her removal from this state occurs during a period in accordance with federal law next preceding such election. A person who is otherwise a qualified elector may vote in the voting area of his or her former residence either in person or by absentee ballot notwithstanding the fact that such person may have become a nonresident of such voting area during a period prescribed by law next preceding the election at which he or she seeks to vote, if his new residence is in another voting area in the state of Kansas.

George Lippencott 4 years, 8 months ago

No part. What it requires is citizenship. See


Passed by Congress February 26, 1869. Ratified February 3, 1870.

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude--

There are several other amendments that start this way suggesting the intent is citizenship in order to vote.

ebyrdstarr 4 years, 8 months ago

Unfortunately, there are people for whom proving citizenship just isn't that easy. Say you're a 50 year-old who was born in Canada to an American mother. Your birth certificate won't prove your citizenship; you need your mother's. and depending on the laws in effect at the time of your birth, you will also need proof that she was a resident of the US for the requisite number of years.

Or perhaps you were born at home in a rural area 60 years ago where not registering the birth and obtaining a birth certificate was the norm.

These are the kinds of scenarios that led us to taking people at their word rather than disenfranchising large numbers of citizens. Particularly since there exists no evidence of a problem with non-citizens voting.

George Lippencott 4 years, 8 months ago

I am sure that rational people can find ways to address such challenges (limited s they are) without opening the door to 12 million undocumented aliens!

John McCoy 4 years, 8 months ago

From under what rock did Kansans find this guy Kobach? His agenda is obviously to keep people from voting. This type of political chicanery stands in opposition to every Kansan who wants his vote to count. What an undemocratic mess he and his hateful ilk have created!

rtwngr 4 years, 8 months ago

If you're eligible to vote, you can vote. Nothing stops that. To say otherwise is intellectually dishonest.

Liberty275 4 years, 8 months ago

But it's a good strategy if you think you are about to lose.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

That's not precisely true.

If you're able to prove to the state's satisfaction that you're eligible to vote, you can vote.

nascar 4 years, 8 months ago

In some countries people eligible to vote do so, but those votes never make it into the official count. Hmmmm.....

smileydog 4 years, 8 months ago

I wonder what the ACLU feels about the current administration using the IRS to suppress the vote, or how our government spies on its citizens? I'd like to see an op-ed about those issues. I am going to have to switch parties just so I feel comfortable voting without retribution, so I won't be put on a list. How nice. I also won't be joining any advocacy groups that profess my beliefs in the future for fear of what my government could do to me for believing what I believe. Those are much more serious to me and I would argue effect far more people, than showing an I.d. In order to vote.

kochmoney 4 years, 8 months ago

Perhaps you should join the ACLU and find out for yourself?

rtwngr 4 years, 8 months ago

It was transparent because you could see right through individuals that were voting in Chicago. They were dead!

When the National Voter Registration Act was written it was to protect citizens, that were entitled to vote, from being prevented that opportunity. Now, we have illegal immigrants voting and duplication of votes in heavily democrat precincts.

You guarantee me a fair election where it's one vote per eligible voter and I'll side with you on the voter registration process.

kochmoney 4 years, 8 months ago

Please provide proof that illegal immigrants are voting in numbers higher than you can count on your hands in this state.

George Lippencott 4 years, 8 months ago

Please identify a process by which we can determine that people ineligible to vote are voting?? You cannot because we do not have one.

Liberty275 4 years, 8 months ago

For every illegal vote, a real voter is disenfranchised by having their vote nullified. How many voters is it OK to disenfranchise for the sake of not disenfranchising voters?

Liberty275 4 years, 8 months ago

So it's OK to disenfranchise virtually no voters tor the sake of not disenfranchising voters. Is that in the neighborhood of correct? A number would make things easier. Maybe you can express it as a percentage of registered voters.

So do we let one fake vote get by and negate your vote? Or would that be one too many?

I'm pretty unconcerned about this whole issue. On one side, the government is obligated to protect me from voter disenfranchisement. They are bound by law to protect the equality of my vote. They really have no choice but to make you identify yourself and in Kansas prove your citizenship. They owe me that protection from whatever fraud you prefer.

OTOH, government is inept enough that cheaters will get through. That's just practicality.

I think you should just have to sign an affidavit at the polling place and have your vote counted. If the affidavits outnumber the margin of victor, the state should investigate a random percentage of affidavits and if probable cause is found regarding votes in question, then warrants should be issued. If they are found guilty of voter fraud (a felony that prevents them from ever voting in Kansas), we void their vote give them some probation.

How many? As many as there are minus the percentage we catch cheating. That's the right number.

Liberty275 4 years, 8 months ago

"All Americans should be able to vote — the most basic right in our democracy"

There exist no "right" to vote. There is only a right to be free from discrimination.

avarom 4 years, 8 months ago

And, we thought Lincoln freed the slaves......well not exactly. Ugh!

Liberty275 4 years, 8 months ago

You spelled "The Thirteenth Amendment" wrong. What slaves have to do with the some mistaken belief that you have a right to vote, I don't know.

avarom 4 years, 8 months ago

Votes for women were first seriously proposed in the United States in July, 1848, at the Seneca Falls Woman's Rights Convention organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. One woman who attended that convention was Charlotte Woodward. She was nineteen at the time. In 1920, when women finally won the vote throughout the nation, Charlotte Woodward was the only participant in the 1848 Convention who was still alive to be able to vote, though she was apparently too ill to actually cast a ballot.

Liberty275 4 years, 8 months ago

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

Seriously, read it. It gives you no right to vote. it protects you from being denied the right to vote because of your gender. Your right to vote can be removed by amending the Kansas Constitution. All they have to do is deprive everyone in the state equally.

It's pretty slick convincing people they have rights that don't exists.

avarom 4 years, 8 months ago

Passed by Congress February 26, 1869. Ratified February 3, 1870. 15th amendment. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. late 1800's. but not enforced till 1963? maybe It wasn't until 1964 that the Civil Rights Act was passed, which allowed greater protection of the right to vote for blacks.

Liberty275 4 years, 8 months ago

Same thing. If a man has a right to vote, then a man of any color has a right to vote. That does not mean men have a right to vote. Your logic doesn't follow properly.

Mike Ford 4 years, 8 months ago

don't worry about commenting against certain posters. they will deny the obvious to the inth. if it looks like Mississippi and smells like Mississippi it's Mississippi. every potential minority must create some kind of apartheid to try and hold onto power. it's our job to pop this apartheid bubble.

ChuckFInster 4 years, 8 months ago

If you're legal to vote then registration is not a problem. On the other hand I really don't see a practical application for this type of law.

grandnanny 4 years, 8 months ago

It is not as easy as you think to prove that you are an American citizen. My sister, who is 76, does not have a legal birth certificate. She was born an home in Kansas but doctor did not registerr her birth certificate within the required one year. Thus no proof of citizenship. She has a driver's license and a passport but that took six months to get as we had to find some proof that she was born here. That is not easy to do as records for that time are few and have to be located. We used a newspaper article to prove that she was born here but doubt that Kobach will allow for that.

Armstrong 4 years, 8 months ago

I'm gonna go out on a limb and wager sis also has a ssn, Guess what all valid forms of ID to prove citizenship. I would also venture to guess sis has no problem showing valid ID for purchases made by check, boarding an airplane or any other number of things ID is required for. Yes it is that easy.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 8 months ago

There are between 11-12 million illegal immigrants in this country now. Obviously, they are all ineligible to vote. But will that always be the case?

It been true for some time that once a person votes, they are more likely to vote again in the future. Making it more difficult to vote that first time will decrease the likelihood that that person will vote a second or third time.

I think at least some of the thinking of those who advocate for these proof of citizenship requirements is the tacit knowledge that if those 11-12 million are allowed to vote at some time in the future, they won't be voting for them. So what is happening is that they're hedging their bets, should the day come that today's illegal immigrants become tomorrow's citizens.

Liberty275 4 years, 8 months ago

"if those 11-12 million are allowed to vote at some time in the future, they won't be voting for them"

Maybe they will. Right now the democrats have the support of aliens illegal and not because they have a more generous stance on immigration. However, once the bill is passed and we grant illegals more freedom to remain in America, and more citizenship, the largely Hispanic and therefore catholic voters will side more and more with the people they agree with regarding abortion and gay marriage. That would be the right.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 8 months ago

I fail to see why you would expect Latinos who are not yet citizens to vote for the right should they become voter eligible given that Latinos who are citizens currently vote for the left in greater numbers than those who vote for the right.

Liberty275 4 years, 8 months ago

It's pretty simple. Right now the left is pro-immigration, like I am. That's pretty important to Latino voters. But after that law is passed and they are new citizens, in a not-so-long time, large swaths will start voting the way most modestly-educated actively-religious people vote, that is against the things their religion forbids. Hispanics are generally Catholic, and Catholicism prohibits abortion, birth control and homosexual acts.

Which political party is against abortion, birth control and homosexual acts?

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