By BRYAN LOWRY
TOPEKA -- Suspended voters should be allowed to vote until the state repairs the system that has left 18,000 registrants with an incomplete status, said Jean Schodorf, Democratic candidate for secretary of state and a former state senator.
Schodorf unveiled her voter plan at a news conference Tuesday in the Capitol's rotunda. She called the state's voting system a mess, despite voting for the proof-of-citizenship requirement as a member of the Senate in 2012.
"I don't regret voting for the law as promised," she said, contending she supports fair and secure elections. She accused Secretary of State Kris Kobach of deceiving lawmakers about the law's impact during the initial push to pass it.
"My mistake was trusting Kris Kobach," she said. "I gave him a chance, and he blew it."
In response, Kobach said the system is succeeding and is needed to prevent fraud.
Schodorf said the 18,000 registrants blocked from voting should be able to participate in the state's August and November elections.
Long term, she said, the state should accept the federal registration form for state and local elections. That form asks for an affidavit of citizenship rather than proof of citizenship.
She said Kansas should accept, without extra hurdles, voters registered in other states when they move here. And she said the federal REAL ID program, which allows driver's licenses and other state-issued ID to be accepted by the federal government for official purposes, should be used by Kansas as a less-burdensome method of proof of citizenship.
"Kris Kobach has not proven there is fraud. He is just keeping people from voting," Schodorf said. "Our American values are that we are innocent until proven guilty. That's the difference."
Kobach called Schodorf's plan "a recipe for voter fraud."
"She wants to go to the bad old days when it was easy for aliens to vote. Every time an alien votes, it cancels out the vote of a U.S. citizen," he said in a phone call.
Kobach said the state presented 20 cases of illegal immigrants registering to vote between 2006 and 2009 in federal court. He estimates it is more common.
"It's exactly like speeding. Just because the police catch 100 speeders doesn't mean that's how many there were. There were probably 10 times that many," Kobach said.
Kobach said it would be administratively impossible to discount a vote cast by an illegal voter after it has been cast.
Schodorf and Kobach's challenger in the Republican primary, Scott Morgan, repeatedly have said the number of fraudulent voters is dwarfed by the 18,000 potential voters stuck in incomplete status.
They say Kobach has administrated the law poorly; he says it has been a success.
"I'd say it's working perfectly well," he said. "Right now, 81 percent of the people who have registered since the law went into effect have completed their registration from sending in proof of citizenship. Only 19 percent are taking their time, but any one of those people can do it at home from their couch this evening."
Schodorf repeatedly called Kobach an "extremist" during her speech. She compared voter suspensions to segregation in the South and accused Kobach of having connections to white supremacist groups.
She confirmed she was referring to Kobach's legal work for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"It's an outrageous accusation and it's false," Kobach said at the suggestion FAIR is a racist organization. "And furthermore, I would simply say this: When a person starts calling her opponent names, that's a sure indicator that she lost the argument.
"Anyone who wants to secure our borders, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is a racist. It's such a left wing crank organization," he said, pointing out that the organization also has made the accusation about CNN anchor Lou Dobbs.
Schodorf would not say whether she thought there were racial motivations behind the proof-of-citizenship policy or whether she was accusing Kobach of racism.
"I don't know what his motivations are, but there are citizens in this state who will never be able to vote under this policy," she said.
"This is part of his background and his belief that not all people should" vote, she said.
Schodorf said the law discriminates against older Kansans, young people and women. She did not add racial minorities to that list when pressed, despite her earlier references.
Kobach said if Schodorf considers him an extremist for supporting proof of citizenship, she also considers most Kansans extremists.
A March poll by Rasmussen Reports, a conservative-leaning polling company, found 78 percent of Kansas voters support the policy.
"The law is completely race-neutral," Kobach said. "To me, the argument is almost racist in nature to say that because of a person's ethnicity, he's going to have a harder time reaching into those files and pulling out his birth certificate than a person of a different race."
Kansas People's Action, a Wichita-based organization that opposes the law, maintains it has affected voters of all races. However, Sulma Arias, the group's executive director, said the law still has a clear racial component.
"He implemented that using fear -- using us, using the Latino community -- and saying, 'Look, they're lining up and they're coming to vote,'" Arias said. "To say that is not racial when that's all he used to even pass the bill is ridiculous."