An Associated Press interview with Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan earlier this week helps clarify — but offers no solution to — the problems plaguing the state’s voter registration system.
The most important point in the story is Jordan’s acknowledgement that, because of uncertainties about the federal Real ID Act, his department has no firm plans to start issuing driver’s licenses that document the licensees’ citizenship status. That means the process Kansas legislators were counting on when they approved a proof-of-citizenship provision for voter registration has broken down and may be beyond repair.
Jordan confirmed that he told legislators before they approved the proof-of-citizenship requirements in 2011 that his office could collect citizenship information when Kansans renewed their driver’s licenses and forward that information to the Secretary of State to provide what was portrayed as a “seamless” process. Jordan said he made that promise based on his belief that the federal Real ID Act would require the collection of that data anyway so it wouldn’t present a big problem to forward it to another state agency.
However, since that time, Jordan said, the federal government has waffled on its enforcement of the Real ID Act, which was intended as an anti-terrorism measure. Until the federal government clarifies its policy on Real ID, Jordan said, there was no reason for his department to collect information for special IDs that can be used to enter federal buildings or board commercial airplanes.
That’s reasonable — except for the fact that Kansas legislators were counting on that system to make the proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration feasible. Thousands of Kansans are registering to vote when they renew or receive their first Kansas drivers licenses, but if they do not follow up separately and provide proof of citizenship, their registrations won’t be valid. More than 19,000 prospective Kansas voters have had their registrations placed on hold awaiting proof-of-citizenship information. A large percentage of those registrations apparently were initiated by people getting their driver’s licenses. Kobach announced later this week that his office would use Kansas birth certificate records to help reduce the number of registrations on hold, but that will do nothing to help people who were born in another state.
There could be no better proof that the “seamless” system that was proposed by Jordan and Secretary of State Kris Kobach doesn’t — and never did — exist. Allowing the law to continue in its current form could be interpreted as a willful attempt to deny thousands of qualified Kansas voters the right to cast their ballots.
Based on the fact that Kobach testified in December that his office had found the names of only 20 noncitizens among about 1.7 million registered Kansas voters, many observers still question the need for this law. But even if legislators disagree with that opinion, the intent of the 2011 legislation clearly has been subverted. Legislators now have a duty to see that the law is either fixed or repealed.