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Kobach defends voter policy

7/9/2012

TOPEKA (AP) -- Secretary of State Kris Kobach is confident the courts will uphold a Kansas law that will require some potential voters to prove their U.S. citizenship starting next year, despite an ongoing legal dispute about a similar policy in Arizona.

TOPEKA (AP) -- Secretary of State Kris Kobach is confident the courts will uphold a Kansas law that will require some potential voters to prove their U.S. citizenship starting next year, despite an ongoing legal dispute about a similar policy in Arizona.

Kobach contends his state's proof-of-citizenship law is sound because it was drafted to avoid issues facing the Arizona law, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported this week. The law will require people registering to vote for the first time in Kansas to present proof they're American citizens to elections officials.

The proof-of-citizenship requirement was included in a package of elections changes legislators approved last year at Kobach's urging. Another measure in the package, requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, took effect this year.

Kobach asked lawmakers this year to move up the effective date of the proof-of-citizenship rule to June 15, so it would be in place before this year's election. Skeptical state senators blocked the proposal, delaying the rule's start until next year.

As Kansas lawmakers reviewed Kobach's proposal to move up the effective date of the proof-of-citizenship rule, a federal appeals court blocked Arizona's law, ruling it conflicted with a federal statute allowing people to mail in voter registration cards without providing documents to prove their citizenship. However, Arizona is being allowed to enforce its policy while the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to hear the case.

Kobach, a former University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor, said the Kansas law doesn't automatically reject federal voter registration forms, as the Arizona law did. Instead, Kansas election officials hold the forms until a person's citizenship can be verified.

Kobach said the Kansas law was drafted "anticipating that somebody might try to sue."

"The law is, I think, virtually bulletproof," he said.

Kobach's comments come as his office prepares for what will be the biggest test so far of the requirement voters show photo ID at the polls -- the state's Aug. 7 primary election. The secretary of state has said local elections have gone smoothly with the policy in place, with little voter confusion or problems.

The secretary of state's website contains links for forms allowing potential voters to seek a free ID along with, if necessary, a free Kansas birth certificate or a birth certificate from another state.

But Louis Goseland, coordinator of KanVote, a Wichita-based group opposed to Kobach's initiatives, contends such efforts show the laws he pushed "contain gaping holes."

"There are still a lot of voters in the dark about this," he said.

Meanwhile, Kobach contends the proof-of-citizenship rule will prevent election fraud by ensuring illegal immigrants and other non-citizens don't register to vote.

His office found 32 non-citizens registered last year; he believes that is a fraction of the actual total, though there are no firm figures.

Kansas has approximately 1.7 million registered voters, and fewer than 10 cases were reported during the past decade of non-citizens voting or attempting to vote. Critics suggest a proof-of-citizenship rule is unnecessary and will suppress voter turnout, particularly among poor, minority, elderly and college-aged voters.

Many critics also have wanted to wait until a $40 million computer upgrade at the state Division of Vehicles is operating smoothly.

Kansas requires all people seeking or renewing a license to prove they're U.S. citizens.

The upgrade is supposed to then allow the division to automatically transfer electronic copies of birth certificates and other documents proving citizenship to election officials.

But the new system has experienced problems since being rolled out in May, resulting in long lines at motor vehicle offices across the state.

Rep. Ann Mah, a Topeka Democrat and a vocal critic of Kobach, said Kansas should delay the proof-of-citizenship provision until after the Division of Vehicles has a reliable database of citizenship documents.

"When we get it built, then require birth certificates to vote," she said.

Kobach has argued the state could move forward without the upgrade, though it would make administering the proof-of-citizenship rule easier.