More than 19,000 of the Kansans who signed up to vote to last year saw their registrations set aside because they didn’t prove their U.S. citizenship to the state.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has a plan to make more of those voters eligible. His solution might cause even more legal problems.
Kobach wants to match the list of suspended registrations with records kept at the state health department to determine who has Kansas birth certificates, one of the documents accepted for proving citizenship.
The state’s vital statistics office will compare lists of would-be voters to its records. Kobach’s office would be notified when matches are confirmed. The procedure will be followed in the future as Kansans register to vote.
“This, in my view, is good government,” Kobach said.
But critics were quick to point out that Kobach’s idea could pose constitutional problems because it treats voters born in Kansas differently from voters born elsewhere.
It also raises questions about how women might be treated. Many change their names after getting married and might not be matched with birth records kept by the state.
“That is not actually going to work,” said Doug Bonney, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri.
Kobach said provisions will be made for women. He said the state health department tracks name changes and those records will be matched against the voting records.
Kobach, however, conceded that prospective voters born in Kansas will benefit more than voters born in another state.
He said there are many examples throughout government where people might have an advantage because of their age, marital status or residence.
“It’s an extra service but it’s not something that would amount to a violation of equal protection of law,” he said.
Vanderbilt University voting rights expert James F. Blumstein said the issue could turn in favor of Kobach if courts saw it as a benign way to help voters.
“I am not sure anyone is being deprived of anything,” he said. “The question is whether the failure to give a benefit to someone who is born outside the state is a problem.”
Even lawmakers who supported the law as way of keeping undocumented immigrants from swaying elections say they never thought it would keep thousands of people from registering to vote.
As of Tuesday, 19,348 registrations had been set aside statewide because would-be voters didn’t prove citizenship. About 4,000 were in Johnson County, 1,000 in Wyandotte County and 500 in Leavenworth County.
State Rep. Scott Schwab, a Republican from Olathe and chairman of the House elections committee, said “this problem is going to be solved before the Legislature is done, and it’s going to happen rather swiftly.”
One possible change might mean requiring state motor vehicle office staff to ask for citizenship papers when signing up voters renewing their driver’s licenses.
The law also has set up the possibility that Kansas might have a two-tiered election system after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could not require proof of citizenship for prospective voters using the federal registration form.
The ACLU and other groups have gone to court to stop the two-tiered system. Meanwhile, Kobach is suing the federal government to modify the federal form to allow for proof of citizenship and avoid the tiered system.