Incumbents voted for voting laws they now oppose

In the Lawrence Journal-World’s Voter Guide that was published Sunday, some readers may have noticed that all of the incumbent legislators expressed at least some level of opposition to the state’s voting laws that require voters to show photo ID at the polls to vote and proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register.

What may not have been evident to readers, however, is that every member of the Lawrence-area delegation at that time voted in favor of the bill enacting those requirements.

When contacted Tuesday to explain those positions, some said the law has not worked out as it was explained; others said they liked part of the bill but not others; and some blamed Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who championed the bill, for poor implementation.

For background, those new voting requirements, considered among the strictest in the nation, were contained in House Bill 2067 during the 2011 legislative session. Kobach, who had just been elected secretary of state the previous November after campaigning on a promise to crack down on voting fraud and illegal immigration, made those new restrictions his top legislative priority as soon as he was sworn into office.

The provisions requiring photo ID were in effect for the general elections the following year, 2012. But the law requiring proof of citizenship did not take effect until Jan. 1, 2013. That meant that the 2014 elections were the first held in Kansas under that requirement, and by the time of the election, more than 27,000 would-be voters had their registrations placed “in suspense” for failing to show the required citizenship documents, and most were unable to vote in that race.

The bill was the subject of intense debate in the 2011 Legislature and several amendments were debated throughout the process. In the end, though, legislative records show the bill passed with little dissent: 36-3 in the Senate, and 111-11 in the House.

Democratic Sens. Marci Francisco, of Lawrence, and Tom Holland, of Baldwin City, both voted yes, as did Democratic Rep. Barbara Ballard and Republican Rep. Tom Sloan, of Lawrence.

In their responses to the Journal-World’s questionnaire, however, all of them expressed at least some level of opposition to the laws:

Sen. Marci Francisco said in her questionnaire answer that the law has not worked out as lawmakers were told. “When the state voting laws were changed to add the requirements for proof of citizenship and photo identification, there was a promise that citizens would be able to easily and legally register to vote in both state and federal elections at the Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles. That system has never worked,” she wrote.

Contacted Tuesday, Francisco elaborated: “We were told that this would be a seamless connection between somebody with a drivers license and record of citizenship,” she said. “And that solved a lot of the problems, esp. for university students.”

Sen. Tom Holland stated on his questionnaire: “I oppose the current laws as presently administered by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. I believe too many people are currently being disenfranchised from their voting rights.”

“I like the concept of showing a photo ID,” Holland said Tuesday, explaining his statement. “What I am not pleased with is the hoops you have to jump through to get one. That is my issue. The other thing is, I think the way Kobach is handling the voter rolls is making it harder for people to keep their voting privileges. For example, I was aware of a woman who got married and moved. It was difficult for her to get that straightened out again.”

Rep. Tom Sloan stated emphatically on his questionnaire, “I voted against the requirement that persons registering to vote must show proof of U.S. citizenship.” And in fact, he did vote no on an earlier version of the bill Feb. 25, although it passed the full House 83-36, sending it on to the Senate. But when the House voted again on the final version March 29, he voted yes.

Sloan said Tuesday that in the normal legislative process, bills get lumped together and lawmakers often vote in favor of bills that have some elements they oppose. But he said he was not able to remember the details of those votes from five years ago.

Rep. Barbara Ballard stated on her questionnaire: “I do not support the state’s current laws requiring people to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to vote and to show photo ID at the polls in order to cast a ballot.”

The Journal-World was unable to contact Ballard for comment Tuesday.