Mary Sanchez

Kansas’ voter ID mess: The problem with fixing something that isn’t broken

The saga of Kansas’ misguided attempt to ensure that only U.S. citizens vote has resulted in thousands of eligible voters being taken off active rolls. Now time will tell how much can be fixed before the November federal elections.
The saga of Kansas’ misguided attempt to ensure that only U.S. citizens vote has resulted in thousands of eligible voters being taken off active rolls. Now time will tell how much can be fixed before the November federal elections.

This is the consequence of passing bad law.

Kansas is set to become the national example for how poorly thought out legislation can undercut the right to vote. Changes the Legislature approved in 2012 are being compared to the days of poll taxes. It’s not a stretch.

This go-round, thousands of would-be voters were excluded, not by race. It was over their ready access to documents, birth certificates and passports that they needed to produce to prove their citizenship.

By court order, on Tuesday, the state had to begin adding at least 18,000 people to voter rolls — potential voters who’d been kept off by the new law when they tried to register at motor vehicle offices. Problem is, rectifying the people’s voting status can’t be accomplished by the flip of a switch.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach argued it. He told a federal appeals court that the confusion his policies have created will be an administrative nightmare for the 105 counties in the state to fix. He submitted that many checks of records will need to be done manually, that not everything is automated.

And that it will be costly to counties.

That was his rationale for keeping the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals from ordering Kansas to register for the November federal election the people it had suspended under the new law. Another complication may be the incompatibility of databases, such as those of county election officials and the department of motor vehicles.

So registration procedures described as a “needless bureaucratic maze” in a lawsuit may continue to impede Kansas residents who want to vote.

The fiasco won’t be fixed anytime soon. The issue remains under appeal, with the next court date in late August.

“It’s going to be years and years,” said Marge Ahrens, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas. “When you pass bad laws, it takes years to fix.”

The league, in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the state on behalf of individual plaintiffs.

Time will tell if the people are fairly turned to active voter status. Some election officials, in interviews this week, have stoically said the people will be added to the rolls relatively easily. But some are officials appointed by Kobach, and they can be removed from their posts by him too. They may not feel free to comment fully, despite being dedicated to the task.

The number of citizens affected is also somewhat of a shifting target. It’s cumulative, as more have attempted to register and been denied, many with the goal of voting in November’s presidential elections.

By some estimates, as many as 4,000 to 5,000 would-be voters are seeing their registrations suspended every month in Kansas, Ahrens said.

And the court order from last Friday only pertained to those who had tried to register at the motor vehicle offices. Some would-be voters may need to start the process all over again, she said. But they may not know it.

The League of Women Voters in Kansas has posted the most recent list of those suspended on their website. It has been alphabetized by county and people’s surnames. The league is nonpartisan. It does not endorse candidates.

Kobach, a Republican, deserves admonishment, as he is the architect and top proponent of this mess. But he had enablers from both political parties who passed the law.

Theoretically, it is hard to oppose the idea of requiring proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote. Until you think deeper. It’s the execution that is the problem.

People don’t cart around their birth certificates. A lot of people don’t even own one, or a passport.

So when they go to register to vote at the motor vehicle office, they don’t have the documents. And they don’t tend to follow up later to provide them.

Besides, the new law was based on the fallacy that noncitizens were trying to vote. But the court found only three such cases where votes were cast in a 10-year period.

There is no fraud. There was nothing to fix.

There was, unfortunately, a lot to be screwed up. People’s right to vote.

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