Democrats eye changes to new Kansas voter ID rules

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Two Democratic legislators from Wichita said they will introduce legislation next week to address an issue with the Kansas voter registration laws that have more than 15,000 applications in limbo.

State Rep. Jim Ward and Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau issued a statement Wednesday indicating they would file bills to fix the law during a special session of the Legislature set to open Tuesday. The registration applications are in suspense until the applicants provide proof of citizenship to election officials.

A law took effect Jan. 1 requiring all first-time applicants to vote to provide proof of citizenship. Faust-Goudeau said the upcoming elections in Johnson County were reason enough for legislators to act soon, rather than to wait until January for the 2014 session.

"Suspended voters will not be able to vote in these upcoming elections without passage of this act. We must protect the right for all people to vote," she said.

The Lawrence Journal-World reports (http://bit.ly/1chWwhA ) that Ward feels legislators should act next week to fix the problem and allow the registrations to be finalized and people allowed to vote. He and Faust-Goudeau propose a change that would allow residents to sign a sworn statement that they are citizens without showing proof. Signing a false statement would result in a jail sentence.

"We want strong integrity in our voting system, but more than 15,000 Kansans not being able to vote is wrong," said Ward. "We can and should fix this now, during a special session where we are already proactively fixing another law ruled unconstitutional, and before upcoming elections."

But the scope of the special session is narrow, called by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to make changes in the state's "Hard 50" prison sentence to conform with a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a similar case out of Virginia. Legislators will be considering a bill that changes the procedure for imposing the mandatory 50-year sentence for certain types of murders.

The court ruled that only juries can impose such sentences. Kansas currently puts that decision in the hands of judges. A measure endorsed Monday by a special judicial committee would create a procedure where juries decide whether a defendant gets 50 years or a lesser penalty, similar to the state's process for determining capital punishment.