Delivering trusted results on Election Day has been an issue in Kansas since before our state’s inception. In 1854, President Franklin Pierce used his office to move Kansas to become a pro-slave state. A conflict erupted between those who wanted to see Kansas as a free state and those who desired it be a slave state.
That year, a pro-slavery Democrat, John Wilkins Whitfield, was elected as a non-voting member to the U.S. Congress on behalf of the Kansas Territory. The following year, a congressional investigation found that more than half the votes cast were illegal. In one location, only 20 of 604 votes cast were by true electors of the territory, according to the PBS program “Bleeding Kansas.” The issue of secure elections is no different today.
Just last week, a federal court struck down the provision in the Kansas SAFE Act requiring proof of citizenship when registering to vote. I was chair of the House Committee on Ethics and Elections at the time the SAFE Act was passed and worked extensively with groups on all sides of the issue to create a bipartisan, consensus bill. In the end, that’s exactly what we did. You know you’ve reached a real compromise when Democrats like Paul Davis and Laura Kelly and Republicans like Lance Kinzer and me all vote in favor of the same act.
But let’s look at the real issue: Ensuring that voters in Kansas elections are actually U.S. citizens, and thus qualified electors, is a good thing. Ensuring that appropriate procedures and standards are in place and are clear for county clerks to follow helps provide trust in the system and in the election process. The SAFE Act was a bipartisan effort to define proof of citizenship and photo ID procedures and in turn, safeguard our elections from non-citizen, non-Kansas voters. The key to keeping it effective in securing the election, while not burdening voters, is excellent execution.
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The problem with last week’s ruling was not a constitutional issue, but rather personality-driven constitutional decisions. One federal judge clearly has serious issues with current Secretary of State Kris Kobach, while Kobach has also been a strong personality while defending himself against a militant organization — the American Civil Liberties Union.
I believe in judicial review. But to protect it, those on the bench must rule based not on conflicts in personality, but by impartially weighing the overall question at hand. As chair of the House Elections Committee in 2011, the entire Legislature did exactly that. The result: overwhelming bipartisan support, despite the strong personalities involved.
Clearly, election security doesn’t end with the SAFE Act and proof of citizenship. Several states have been the target of foreign hacking, creating distrust in government. Our nation’s currency is based on full faith and credit in the elected U.S. government, making it incumbent upon our elected officials that we continue safeguarding our elections against outside interference. This way when we get results on Election Day, we can trust them — whether we like them or not.
As we move forward in this debate, it is paramount that proof of citizenship measures and other forms of election security remain in place to protect the vote of all Kansans. We can preserve good policy with excellent execution by providing county clerks the resources they need to conduct secure elections, cutting-edge computer security and effective security measures at the ballot box. Because as we learned in 1854, there will always be someone or something from the outside trying to influence our elections, trying to tell us who we should be.
But we are Kansans. We know who we are. With measures like the SAFE Act, we can preserve our elections, preserve who we are and give every Kansan trusted results.
Kansas state Rep. Scott Schwab is a candidate for Kansas secretary of state.