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Kansans May Be Able to Vote for President, Not Governor

Carla Eckles voter IDShalay Shugart reviews a letter from the Sedgwick County Election Office, explaining what she will need to complete her registration to vote. (Photo by Carla Eckels, KMUW)

A two-tiered voting system could be implemented in Kansas where registrants would be limited to vote in federal elections but not in state races. The state law that went into effect Jan. 1, requires new voters to prove their U.S. citizenship in order to register. Because of the new law, more than 18 thousand Kansans, remain in suspended status for failing to provide a birth certificate or other qualifying document. A federal judge in Wichita hold a hearing, Friday (Dec. 13), on a lawsuit by Kansas and Arizona. The two states request a preliminary injunction forcing the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to modify a national voter registration form to help the states administer their requirements. KMUW's Carla Eckels reports.

Proof of Citizenship

On Jan. 1, 2013, a new law went into effect in Kansas. The law requires new voters to prove their U.S. citizenship in order to register.

As a result of the new regulations, more than 17 thousand Kansans, including more than 3,900 potential voters in Sedgwick County, remain in “suspended” status for failing to provide a birth certificate or other qualifying document when registering.

Take Your Time

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach authored the Secure and Fair Elections Act. Kobach says most people don’t carry birth certificates around, the law was written in a very permissive way. It allows applicants to take their time to complete their registration.

“You can do it a month later, you can do it a year later, there’s no limit to how long you can take,” Kobach said. “We wrote the law in a permissive way, to really make it easy for Kansas voters, so they wouldn’t be pressured to get this document immediately.”

Preventing Fraud

Kobach says the proof of citizenship is essential in securing voter rolls because it’s very common for non-citizens to get registered. He says his office has already discovered 15 non-citizens on the Kansas voter rolls. The motor voter option has allowed many aliens to slip through.

“So by adding this extra check, this extra security to the process, requiring a person to prove citizenship,” he said. “We ensure that those non-citizens don’t get on the polls. And, by the way, of those 15 aliens who were registered to vote in Kansas, five of them actually did cast ballots. And every time an alien votes, that effectively cancels out the vote of a U.S. citizen who is voting in that same election. So it's a very real issue, a very real problem.”

Why Do We Need Proof of Citizenship Now?

Doug Bonney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas says the proof of citizenship document is unnecessary and that the problem does not really exist.

“There just isn’t that type of fraud,” Bonney said. “People do not show up at the election authorities and try to register to vote when they’re not citizens, so there’s no need for this.”

Two Tiers

There’s a tug-of-war between the Kansas law and federal voting regulations. The federal form requires a sworn statement of citizenship but not a birth certificate for registration. Secretary Kobach, as well as the State of Arizona, is suing the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in order to force a change in the federal form so it complies with registration laws of the two states. This will close the loophole which allows people to “bypass” state laws by using the federal form.

Louis Goseland, coordinator of KanVote, a statewide campaign whose mission is to defend voter rights, says that Kobach's law has effectively created a two-tier voting registration system.

“Kobach is saying that the states have the right to impose their restrictions on their own elections,” Goseland said. “(And that) the federal government has the authority to govern federal elections. So if you filled out a form provided by Congress, you can vote in federal elections, but you can't vote in state elections until you provide your proof of citizenship.”

Suit Against the Suit

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging Kobach's system. The suit charges that “eligible votes are being divided into separate and unequal classes, based on nothing more than the method of registration that a voter uses.”

Kobach does not believe that two-tiered voting for new registrants will happen because he is confident that the federal courts will rule to change the federal form.

Wichita’s Judge Eric Melgren will hear the arguments from Arizona and Kansas on Dec. 13, 2013.

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