Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Legislature unlikely to change proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — A proposal to change the new state law that has put at risk 15,000 Kansans’ ability to vote was rejected in the state House of Representatives on Tuesday and probably will not be revived during the special session.

As the Legislature started a special session to fix a constitutionally flawed murder statute, state Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, tried to pass a provision to eliminate the new state requirement that Kansans must show proof of U.S. citizenship with a document such as a birth certificate or passport when they register to vote.

Since the proof of citizenship requirement took effect Jan. 1, the voter registration applications of approximately 15,000 Kansans, including 600 in Douglas County, have been placed in “suspense,” which means they aren’t completed.

But Ward’s proposal, which he tried to attach to the bill fixing the murder statute, was declared not relevant, so it probably won’t be considered during the session.

Republican legislative leaders have said the special session will last no more than three days and they want to focus solely on the murder statute and several appointments by Gov. Sam Brownback.

Voting rights advocates were upset.

“I live in Overland Park, where we’re having an election next month,” said Aaron Belenky, whose registration application is in ‘suspense.’

“My voter registration has been unlawfully ‘suspended,’ and unless the Legislature repeals this law, I will be denied my most fundamental freedom, the right to vote,” said Belenky.

The ACLU, NAACP, and Equality Kansas say the Kansas proof-of-citizenship requirement should be invalidated because the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Arizona provision that was similar to the current Kansas law.

During a rally of about 80 people in the Statehouse, Derek Bruey, an 18-year-old from Wichita, said his registration is in “suspense,” even though he provided proof of citizenship with a birth certificate when filling out forms to register to vote while getting a driver’s license. He said he received a notice from the state that he would have to provide the documentation again at the local election office.

He said the law was an “intentional effort” to make it more difficult for him to vote.

Ward’s proposal would have been similar to federal law by allowing a voter to sign an affidavit stating he or she is a citizen. If the statement were false, the voter would face a jail sentence.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who pushed for the proof of citizenship requirement, has defended the Kansas law, saying it is necessary to prevent non-citizens from voting.

Kobach and the secretary of state of Arizona are seeking a court order requiring the United States Election Assistance Commission to modify the federal voter registration form to include those states’ requirements that a person provide proof of citizenship to register to vote.

Glenda Overstreet, president of the NAACP Kansas State Conference, said Kobach was wasting taxpayer money on a “misguided lawsuit.”

“Since January 1st, he (Kobach) has flouted that law, insisting that Kansans provide documentation that is simply not required,” said Overstreet. “Voting is the most fundamental freedom we have as Americans, and Kobach’s scheme is un-American and must end immediately,” she said.