GOP candidates for secretary of state respond to ACLU voting rights campaign

An announcement over the weekend that the American Civil Liberties Union is launching a political campaign to repeal Kansas’ restrictive voting laws prompted sharp comments Monday from Republican candidates running for secretary of state.

Rep. Scott Schwab issued a statement calling the ACLU an “extreme leftist” group that wants to repeal voting laws that he says are overwhelmingly popular.

“These outsiders forget that these elections safeguards were passed with the bipartisan support of even key Democrat leaders like constitutional attorney and 2nd congressional district candidate, Paul Davis, and current House Minority Leader and gubernatorial candidate, Jim Ward,” Schwab said. “Reality is: we’re Kansans. Political hijackers like the ACLU shouldn’t try telling us what our election laws should and shouldn’t be.”

In 2011, current Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national crusader against illegal immigration, championed passage of laws requiring people to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote, and government-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot at the polls.

The ACLU is currently challenging the proof-of-citizenship law in federal court. Last summer, a judge issued a temporary injunction barring the state from requiring proof of citizenship for people who register when renewing their driver’s license, saying that conflicts with the National Voter Registration Act, or NVRA, also known as the “motor voter” law.

A 2016 survey by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University found Kansans deeply split over those laws. Half of those surveyed said they think the laws have helped prevent voter fraud, but 42 percent said they believe they have made it more difficult for otherwise eligible voters to vote.

Nationally, though, a Gallup poll in August 2016 found that 80 percent of Americans support laws requiring people to show photo ID at the polls.

Kobach is now running for governor in 2018. Three Republicans have announced they will run for secretary of state. In addition to Schwab, they are Sedgwick County Clerk Kelly Arnold, who is also chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, and Rep. Keith Esau of Olathe. No Democrat has gotten into the race so far.

Arnold said in an email that he supports both the photo ID and proof of citizenship laws, and if elected would advocate keeping both.

“Free and fair elections are critical to our system of government,” he said. “As Secretary of State, I will work to protect the integrity of each election. In order to provide such protection, Kansas law provides a simple voter ID check to ensure that only those who are eligible may vote. I support both laws as they currently stand. Over 80 percent of Americans, both Republican and Democrat, support Voter ID laws.”

Esau also said he supports the laws.

“Voting rights are different from other rights in our Constitution because voting rights are only granted to citizens. Other rights are inherent and granted by God,” he said in a phone interview Monday.