By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World
TOPEKA, KAN. — It's not often a race for a low-profile statewide office in Kansas generates national interest.
But the 2014 campaign for Kansas secretary of state will.
The incumbent, Republican Kris Kobach, has become a controversial figure nationwide, pushing for passage in Kansas and other states of tough illegal immigration laws and new requirements for voting.
Democrats are hoping an overreach by Kobach will bring disaffected moderate Republicans into the Democratic column.
Two Democratic candidates already have stepped forward to face off in the primary next August: Randy Rolston, of Mission Hills, who is president of a mail-order gift company, and Jean Schodorf, of Wichita, a former state senator.
Rolston is a campaign novice, while Schodorf served 12 years in the state Senate, and recently switched to the Democratic Party from the Republican Party .
Both blast Kobach over the recent controversy that has put more than 20,000 Kansans — and the number grows by about 2,000 per month — in voting limbo.
"This is going to be chaos at the polls," Rolston said.
"People have lost confidence in the election process," Schodorf said.
But Kobach said, "Kansas now leads the country in securing the integrity of the election process."
The dispute is over a law that Kobach shepherded through the Legislature that requires proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, to register to vote. Kobach has said the requirement is needed to prevent non-citizens from voting.
The law took effect Jan. 1 and has left thousands of Kansans' voter registrations incomplete because they haven't provided the proper documents to election officials.
Critics say part of the problem is that many people register to vote while they are getting their driver's license. The federal motor-voter form doesn't require showing a document to prove citizenship.
So the would-be voters think they are done with registration, and either don't know there is a problem or will put off going down to the election office with their birth certificate until it is too late for their votes to count.
Schodorf said the law must either be changed or repealed.
Kobach pointed out that when Schodorf was in the Legislature she voted for the bill that set up the proof-of-citizenship requirement. "She evidently has lost confidence in her own views," he said.
Schodorf said she voted for the bill because she had an overwhelming number of constituents who wanted her to vote for it to see if the requirement would work. "Obviously, it hasn't. When you pass a law that doesn't work, you have to fix it or repeal it. The bill has to be fixed. It's broken," she said.
Both Kobach and his opponents are lawyered up to fight over the proof of citizenship requirement.
The ACLU, on behalf of several organizations, including the NACCP, has notified Kobach that if he doesn't fix the situation, it will file a lawsuit in November.
Meanwhile, 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.
Aside from the voter registration controversy, Rolston said Kobach has neglected his duties as secretary of state. Kobach, as an attorney, has worked nationally to assist cities and states in drafting stringent illegal immigration laws. Kobach has co-authored the most controversial of those laws in the nation, including those in Arizona and Alabama, and is in frequent legal battles over the issue of illegal immigration. He also was a an informal adviser on immigration issues to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
"We need a full-time secretary of state," Rolston said.
Kobach has often said that he works in his spare time on immigration issues in other states and that work does not detract from his duties as secretary of state.
Rolston said he expects a low-key Democratic primary with Schodorf. "She has the same amount of passion that I do, and the end result should be the same. Our goal is to defeat Kris Kobach."