Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) — notorious voter suppression architect who now wields the power to prosecute people for voter fraud — has proposed a change to state regulations which would allow his office to purge more than 30,000 incomplete voter registration applications being held because voters have not yet provided proof of citizenship.
Four state lawmakers, including one Republican, have come out against the proposal, claiming it would disproportionately impact low-income, minority and elderly voters who may need more than 90 days to provide their proof of citizenship. State Rep. Jim Ward (D) told ThinkProgress that not every Kansas citizen has a drivers’ license and other forms of identification can be hard for people to procure in a short period of time.
“[Kobach] said we gave more time than other states who have imposed this purge rule, and we thought it was fair,” Ward said. “But there really wasn’t any kind of analysis on how long it would take” voters to produce a proof of citizenship.
Soon after taking office, Kobach advocated for a law requiring new voters in Kansas to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register. The law took effect in 2013, and immediately 12,000 people were placed in limbo because they could not prove their citizenship, despite the fact that the threat of non-citizens casting a ballot of virtually non-existent.
As of now, more than 30,000 voters have begun the registration process but are being held in suspense because they have not showed the required identification. Currently, voters can provide the required documents up until Election Day, but Kobach wants to change that. He told a Kansas newspaper the proposal is intended to save election officials time and money and cut down on reminders they send voters to submit their citizenship documents.
“The way the regulations are structured now, they’re still sending [reminders] out to everybody on the list,” he told the Lawrence Journal-World.
But Ward said it’s often difficult for voters to obtain their birth certificate, U.S. passport, naturalization document or other allowed document in just 90 days. Kobach’s proposal, he said, is more about suppressing voters than about easing the burden on state elections officials.
A hearing is currently scheduled for early September to discuss Kobach’s proposal. Though four lawmakers on a joint committee have expressed their disapproval, they do not have the power to stop the state agency from implementing the rule.
“It was important to send a message to the secretary, but it won’t register,” Ward said. “If this was not Kris Kobach and voter suppression, an agency would have seen this as a problem — if you had that many people on this kind of committee saying they didn’t like what you were doing, they might have taken a step back.”
Kobach has become notorious for his voter suppression efforts in Kansas, where voters can choose between a state or federal voter registration form. He has previously attempted to require proof of citizenship for federal voter registration, but the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his attempt in June. Kobach had claimed that the federal form “creates a small loophole which can allow noncitizens to vote.”
Ward said Kobach — who also spearheaded many draconian anti-immigrant laws including Arizona’s SB 1070 — is proposing the rule change as part of his larger agenda to prevent Latinos and other minorities from voting.
“Kris Kobach came to office five years ago and on the first day, created this massive change in the way we vote in Kansas,” Ward said. “He made this claim that there is massive fraud going on and we’ve got to protect the vote process because there’s nothing more precious than the right to vote. It took him about two or three years to get the voter ID law passed. At the same time, Kris is pushing very hard to get cases prosecuted to push his allegation.”
In June, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed legislation giving Kobach prosecutorial authority, making him the only secretary of state in the country with the power to go after cases of alleged voter fraud without involving prosecutors. Kobach has said he will announce the first set of cases he plans to prosecute next month. But while Kobach has said prosecutors were too busy to look into voter fraud allegations, Ward claims that state prosecutors said they were never referred any cases of voter fraud from Kobach’s office to investigate.
Investigations by other state attorneys general have found that most instances of alleged voter fraud are the result of voter confusion or mistakes made by election officials and not deliberate attempts to commit fraud.