Editorial: Double standard

A system that doesn’t require Kansas natives to present proof of citizenship to register to vote discriminates against other qualified voters simply on the basis of where they were born.

In addition to running a two-tiered election system, it appears the Kansas secretary of state also is using a two-tiered system to enforce the state’s proof-of-citizenship law for voter registration. Some Kansas voters have to present proof of their citizenship and some do not.

In recent weeks, several instances came to light where voters who hadn’t presented a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship suddenly learned their voter registrations nonetheless had been completed. Several anecdotal incidents have been cited in Lawrence and, in a couple of instances, Secretary of State Kris Kobach sought to have lawsuits related to voter registration thrown out because his office had completed the plaintiffs’ registrations and they no longer had standing to pursue their court action.

How did that happen? Well, although it hasn’t been widely publicized, the secretary of state entered into an interagency agreement about two years ago with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment under which all voter registrations that were being held “in suspense” by the secretary of state would be checked against Kansas birth records. The secretary of state supplies detailed information from the voter registration form, including name, gender, date of birth, and the last four digits of the person’s Social Security number, to KDHE, which uses that information to see if it can find a matching Kansas birth certificate that could then be used to confirm the voter’s citizenship. In some circumstances, KDHE also was directed to use Kansas marriage license records to try to find people who have married and changed their names.

A representative of Kobach’s office said last week that the birth certificates were an additional “service” provided by the secretary of state. It certainly is a service for Kansas natives, but it clearly discriminates against people who were born or married elsewhere. While someone who is born in Kansas apparently can rely on the secretary of state to confirm their citizenship status, those born elsewhere still have to present proof. Even someone who was born in Kansas but married and changed his or her name in another state would be overlooked with the current system.

The state’s proof-of-citizenship statute gives the secretary of state and county election officers the authority to confirm an applicant’s citizenship “in a different manner,” but that doesn’t justify a process that involves systematic discrimination against qualified voters who weren’t born in Kansas. Interestingly, some Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation that would formalize that discrimination by dropping the requirement for Kansas natives to provide proof of citizenship — but Kobach says he opposes that measure.

Checking registrations against birth certificates serves the desirable purpose of reducing the number of registrations being held “in suspense” — a list that has produced significant adverse publicity for Kobach’s office — but it also involves a double standard that discriminates against would-be Kansas voters who are U.S. citizens but were born outside of Kansas. If the state is going to look up birth certificates for Kansas natives, it has an obligation to offer the same “service” to people born elsewhere.

If it is unwilling or unable to do that, the current practice may leave the state open to criticism — and perhaps legal action — related to a registration process that discriminates against an entire class of Kansas voters.