Editorial: Action needed

Kansas legislators should clear up the current voter confusion by suspending the state’s proof-of-citizenship law until its legal status is resolved.

With less than two months to go before primary elections, court battles pushed by the Kansas secretary of state continue to add new confusion and complications for Kansans who simply want to exercise their right to vote.

The situation is so serious that state legislators, during their upcoming special session, should consider suspending enforcement of the proof-of-citizenship requirement until legal questions are resolved.

On Friday, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled that voters who registered at state motor vehicle offices in Kansas must be allowed to vote in federal elections even if they did not provide proof of citizenship.

The ruling will force state election officers to comb through about 50,000 voter registrations that either are on hold or have been discarded. The ruling, which is based on the federal Motor Voter Act, affects only voters who registered at motor vehicle offices, so the state will have to separate those registrations from others that were submitted through voter registration drives or other means.

Then the state will have to devise some way to flag those voters so they will be allowed to vote only in presidential and congressional elections. That process was used during the last election but only for a handful of voters who had registered with a federal form that requires voters to confirm under penalty of perjury that they are citizens but doesn’t require them to present citizenship documents.

The status of voters who register with the federal form also is in question. The 10th Circuit ruled last year that those registrations were valid for federal elections, but the new executive director of the federal Election Assistance Commission– the former Johnson County elections commissioner appointed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach — ruled without conferring with his commissioners that it was legal for Kansas to enforce its proof-of-citizenship law on those registering with a federal form. That decision now is under appeal.

In court documents, Kobach maintained that Friday’s ruling would result in “widespread confusion” and a “heavy administrative burden” on state election officials. While that certainly is true, this situation was created by the state, not the courts, which saw the right of citizens to cast their ballots as more important than any inconvenience to Kansas officials.

Beyond the inconvenience, however, the legal and administrative confusion surrounding voter registration in Kansas threatens the integrity of state elections far more than any perceived threat posed by non-citizen voters. Continued court battles, which the state so far has consistently lost, are only adding to the confusion. Legislative action to allow all registered voters, whether they have produced proof-of-citizenship records or not — to vote in both state and federal elections this year is a reasonable response to the problem.