Editorial: Election confusion
The legal confusion surrounding Kansas voter registration laws may have a big impact on voter participation in upcoming elections.
There are a number of ways Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach could improve the accuracy and integrity of the state’s election system. Creating a two-tiered voter registration system whereby some voters would be qualified to cast ballots only in federal races is not one of them.
A recent Associated Press story focused on the efforts of a consortium of 22 states that are working to update their voter rolls. An effort to identify voters who are registered in more than one state is known as the “Kansas project” in recognition of the leadership of Kansas and Kobach. A second project, the Electronic Registration Information Center is working to identify registered voters who have died.
The goal of the projects seems to be simply to improve the accuracy of voter registration rolls, which is a concept most people should support. Cleaning up their records to prevent abuses should be a top priority for both local and state election officials.
None of the multi-state programs, however, deal with the issue of verifying citizenship as part of the voter registration process. A new Kansas law that adds that requirement is causing the state and Kobach significant problems.
Since the proof-of-citizenship requirement went into effect, about 18,000 voter registration forms have been placed “in suspense” in Kansas, most of them because they are not accompanied by citizenship documentation. Many of those people have registered to vote at drivers license offices using a federal form, which carries no citizenship requirement.
Kobach has joined with Arizona officials in a lawsuit against the federal Election Assistance Commission, which has refused to alter federal voter registration forms in Kansas and Arizona to include the states’ proof-of-citizenship requirement because is says the state laws conflict with the requirements of the federal Motor Voter Act. As always, Kobach expresses confidence that he will win the legal argument, but he nonetheless has developed a fallback plan involving a two-tier registration system: The people who filed either a state or federal registration form AND provided proof of citizenship would be eligible to vote in all elections; those who filed a federal form but did not provide citizenship proof would be eligible to vote, but only in congressional and presidential elections. Left out completely are people who used a state form but supplied no citizenship proof; they wouldn’t be allowed to vote in any election.
County election officers already have been instructed to create a separate database for people who register with the federal form. If this plan moves forward, counties will have to bear the additional expense of basically running two parallel elections for two different classes of voters.
An even more serious consequence of Kobach’s maneuvering is the confusion it is creating among Kansas voters. With state and federal general elections little more than a year away, no one knows how Kobach’s various legal battles will play out, who will be allowed to vote in what races, and whether counties will be required to fund and monitor an election that includes not only two major political parties but two different sets of voters.
Making sure voter rolls are accurate and up to date and curtailing voter fraud are basic duties for the state’s top election official. So is encouraging the participation of all eligible voters in Kansas. Kobach claims that his efforts have nothing to do with suppressing the vote in Kansas, but the confusion and uncertainty his legal machinations are causing are almost certain to have exactly that effect.