TOPEKA Jean Schodorf, the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, said Tuesday that voters should not be denied the right to cast a ballot in state and local elections for failing to provide proof of citizenship.
During a Statehouse news conference, Schodorf harshly criticized incumbent Republican Kris Kobach for his implementation of a new law requiring new voters to show proof of citizenship, even though she voted for that law in 2011.
"My voting for this bill was not a mistake," Schodorf said, referring to the Safe and Fair Elections Act, also known as SAFE. "My mistake was trusting Kris Kobach: believing the lies that Kris Kobach told me, the lies that Kris Kobach told the Legislature, and the lies that Kris Kobach told the Kansas people."
Schodorf outlined a plan for fixing what she called a "broken" voter registration system. It calls for improving training and support for poll workers and county election officials; fully implementing the federal REAL ID program, which requires proof of citizenship to obtain a drivers license; and allowing all people whose registrations are currently "in suspense" due to the citizenship requirement to vote this year, unless the state can prove the voter is not a citizen.
"Under my plan, we will end the guilty until proven innocent status that currently exists," Schodorf said.
Since Jan. 1, 2013, anyone registering for the first time in their county, including people moving back to Kansas from another state, have had to show proof of citizenship to register to vote.
Schodorf, who was a Republican state senator from Wichita in 2011, said that when the bill was debated, Kobach promised that most people would not notice the new law once it took effect, and that its implementation would be "seamless."
She switched parties to become a Democrat after losing a Republican primary race in 2012.
Since the proof-of-citizenship requirement took effect, however, Schodorf said 28 percent of the new voter registrations have been placed "in suspense" due to the citizenship requirement. That includes 624 registrations in Douglas County, according to local election officials.
Kobach has said that people who attempted to register using a federal registration form, which does not ask for proof of citizenship, will be allowed to vote in federal races for the U.S. House and Senate. But those who used the state form and have not provided proof of citizenship before the registration deadline will not be allowed to vote.
Kobach's campaign did not immediately respond to Schodorf's comments.