Without some intervention from top Kansas officials, the state’s voter registration system almost certainly will find itself mired in legal disputes that will have a devastating effect on local, state and federal elections later this year.
Regardless of how a federal judge in Wichita rules in a lawsuit over voter registration forms in Kansas and Arizona, additional litigation will follow. If the judge accepts the argument that federal registration forms must be changed to confirm to the states’ proof-of-citizenship requirements, voter rights groups are certain to appeal. If he rejects that argument, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will continue his litigation, while also seeking to make good on his promise to pursue a dual voter registration system in Kansas.
Either way, legal arguments are likely to stretch on for months, while the number of Kansas voters whose registrations have been put on hold continues to grow and county election officials try to prepare for August primaries and November general elections without a clear mandate on who will be allowed to vote in which races.
The Wichita judge had been waiting for a ruling from the federal Election Assistance Commission, which, on Friday, rejected out of hand the request that federal voter registration forms be altered for use in Kansas and Arizona. The commission noted the “paucity of evidence” provided by the states about non-citizens registering to vote and contended that requiring proof of citizenship did not enhance voter participation and sets up barriers to voting that undermine the federal Voter Registration Act.
Kobach doesn’t agree with that assessment and has pledged to use the authority of his office to press the case forward or circumvent it by creating a dual registration system — a move that would be a travesty for the state.
Such a system, in Kobach’s mind, would allow new Kansas voters who submit the federal voter registration form — the one that’s used at the state’s driver’s license offices — to vote only in federal elections for president and Congress. To be eligible to vote in state and local elections, they would have to complete a state registration form and provide proof of citizenship. A two-tiered system for voters would create a terrible mess.
Who knows what happens to about 20,000 registrations currently on hold at the Secretary of State’s office because they don’t include proof of citizenship? Most of those registrations came from driver’s license bureaus across the state, which are taking no responsibility for collecting and forwarding proof-of-citizenship information. Someone should be demanding positive action to clear up this logjam.
The quagmire of legal and practical uncertainty that currently engulfs voter registration in Kansas has the potential to undermine the integrity of upcoming elections and even the legal validity of those election results. Legislators and the governor maintain that this is Kobach’s problem to solve but, if they choose to stand on the sidelines, they are tacitly approving of this voting debacle.
The proposed system to facilitate confirmation of citizenship has broken down. State officials must step in and put the proof-of-citizenship requirement on hold unless or until they can show it can be practically enforced without placing an undue burden on qualified Kansas voters who simply want to register and cast their votes.