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A license to madness

We saw an interesting little shift of an issue last week when Gov. Sam Brownback's Department of Revenue -- the folks in charge of issuing drivers' licenses -- started moving toward letting Kansans know it is the driver's license store ... with not much to do with voter registration.

The issue, of course, is that 17,000-and-growing number of Kansans who get their initial licenses or renew their licenses and routinely are asked whether they want to register to vote. That's a federal law -- asking those DL customers whether they want to register to vote, part of the Motor Voter Act.

But that initial contact about voting, which has nothing to do with just getting a license to drive, has become the flash point for Kansans who haven't brought a birth certificate or passport or some other official document that proves they are genuine Americans to get their license renewed.

Well, it gets politically messy when just getting a driver's license can mess up your right to vote, put you on the "suspense" list which means you have to trek down to the local election office, or maybe the Secretary of State's office, to prove you are a sure-enough legal citizen who has the right to vote.

Revenue later this fall will start issuing licenses that show nothing more than that you live in Kansas and are licensed to drive. No link to voting, if you can vote now, you still can vote. No cross-over between the driver's license and proof of citizenship. Basically if you can vote now, just tell the Revenue folks that, and get a driver's license that doesn't have the "Real ID" or proof of citizenship stuff on it. It just says you can drive.

The closest that new license will come is proving you live in Kansas and for most people, just a water bill is proof enough.

So, the governor's Department of Revenue is in charge of driving, and this voter business, well, you'll have to take that up with another statewide elected official -- Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

See the movement here? You want to drive? Gov. Sam Brownback's Department of Revenue gets you fixed up. Problems with voting? Well, it's that other guy on the statewide ballot -- Kobach -- who is causing the problem there.

Division of responsibility -- and probably by the time every Kansan knows someone who always has voted and now is in that pesky "suspense" category, Brownback will have made it clear to everyone it's not his administration; it is Kobach's that is causing trouble.

Now, everyone probably wants just citizens to vote. And the maybe dozen people who tried to vote since the last time you got a new car shouldn't have voted or tried to vote and were caught at it.

But for those 17,000-plus Kansans, well, that's Kobach's doing now, with Brownback safely back in the business of licensing drivers and ... well, just licensing drivers.

See a little split between the governor's office and the secretary of state's office? Let's give it another couple months leading up to next year's primary election and see how wide that split gets.

Probably wide enough to drive your car through, we're betting...

Martin Hawver is publisher of

Hawver's Capitol Report.