Lawmakers question Kobach’s effort to purge ‘suspense’ voter list

? Four Kansas Lawmakers went on record Monday opposing Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s proposal to cancel voter registration applications after 90 days if those voters do not submit proof of citizenship or other required information.

Those statements came during a meeting of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and Regulations, which reviews proposed regulations, but which does not have authority to veto them.

“I want to record my opposition to this arbitrary and capricious 90-day rule,” said Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who also raised new questions about whether the state’s proof-of-citizenship requirement is constitutional, in light of a recent federal appeals court opinion.

Joining him were Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudea, of Wichita, and Rep. Tom Hawk, of Manhattan, both Democrats, and Republican Sen. Vicki Schmidt, of Topeka.

Since January 2013, voters registering for the first time in their county have been required to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to complete their registrations.

During the 2014 midterm elections, more than 23,000 Kansans who had attempted to register since that law took effect were unable to vote because their registrations were held “in suspense” because they had not provided the required documents.

According to Kobach’s office, that number now stands at more than 31,000 would-be voters.

Bryan Caskey, who heads the elections division in Kobach’s office, said efforts have been made to reach those voters, but many of them have either moved or have not responded to follow-up letters and phone calls.

“It’s been my experience as an administrator that if a person doesn’t respond to repeated, repeated contacts pretty quickly, they’re not going to respond,” Caskey said. “There are other states, Arizona and Georgia, which have similar proof-of-citizenship laws that give their applicants 30 days. We thought that was too narrow, so we went with 90 days.”

Caskey said the 90-day rule would relieve county election offices of the burden of continuing to reach those people long after it has become clear they don’t want to complete their registrations.

But Ward said it could take longer than 90 days for people born in other states to obtain a birth certificate, and for many low-income individuals the cost of doing so might be prohibitive.

Ward said he might be able to accept the 90-day rule, “if there was some criteria other than, ‘it’s convenient for us and we think this is fair,’ but now it looks like you just want to do this so you don’t have me on television as much as I can, telling you that you’ve got 31,000 people who are not able to vote because of this voter ID law.”

Kobach’s proposal comes at a time when restrictive voting laws in several states are coming under renewed scrutiny.

In Kansas, an advisory committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission plans to hold hearings starting in January to look into whether Kansas’ laws — including one that also requires voters to show photo identification at the polls — are suppressing voter turnout.

And in Texas, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that Texas’ photo ID law can be struck down if it is shown to have a discriminatory impact, regardless of whether the law was enacted with discriminatory intent.

An analysis last fall by the Journal-World of registrations held in suspense at that time showed that the law had a disproportionate impact on young voters and voters in low-income neighborhoods.

But Caskey said attorneys in the secretary of state’s office are confident that Kansas’ laws would withstand a constitutional challenge.

The secretary of state’s office will hold a public hearing on the proposed change Sept. 2 in Topeka. After that, Kobach can either amend the proposed regulation or finalize it by publishing it in the Kansas Register.