Push to end voter proof rule falters
By JOHN HANNA
TOPEKA -- Critics of a Kansas law requiring new voters to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship when registering urged legislators Tuesday to repeal the policy during their special session, but such an effort immediately stalled.
Approximately 100 people gathered at the Statehouse for a rally sponsored by KanVote, a Wichita-based group that opposed the law, which took effect in January.
The NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Kansas, the state's leading gay-rights organization, also called publicly for the law's repeal.
The law took effect in January, backed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach and fellow Republicans, who view it as a way to prevent non-citizens from voting improperly. But more than 15,000 legal Kansas residents' voter registrations are on hold because they have yet to provide proper documents, meaning they can't legally vote.
Lawmakers convened a special session to repair a law that allows convicted murderers to be sentenced to at least 50 years in prison, and leaders of the GOP-dominated Legislature were not planning to take up any other policy issues.
During a House debate Tuesday, Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, offered an amendment to "Hard 50" legislation to allow new voters to simply affirm they are citizens, rather than requiring them to produce a birth certificate, passport or some other document. But the Republican-controlled House ruled it out of order.
The Rev. Ben Scott, the past president of the NAACP's state chapter, called the law an example of "misplaced priorities" and recalled national struggles five decades ago to ensure minorities could exercise their right to vote in the South.
"I can tell you we won't give up," Scott said during the rally. "We've come too far."
Kobach has argued Kansas actually is being lenient by allowing people to fill out registration forms and present proof of their U.S. citizenship later. House Elections Committee Chairman Scott Schwab, a conservative Olathe Republican who backed the law, acknowledged it might need to be revised but said lawmakers need to more time assess its effects.
Also, Schwab noted, the ACLU, NAACP and Equality Kansas have threatened to file a federal lawsuit over the law, and Kobach is pursuing his own litigation to make sure federal officials don't impede the state's enforcement of the law. The legal challenges need to play out first, Schwab said.
"This thing hasn't even been in effect for a year yet," Schwab said. "We just need to be patient."