TOPEKA — A state senator lashed out Tuesday against negative attention focused on Kansas as Secretary of State Kris Kobach moves to purge suspended voters who haven’t provided proof of citizenship.
Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, bemoaned criticism directed at the state despite efforts to help individuals complete the voter registration process.
The comments came at an interim joint legislative committee meeting focused on ethics and elections. Bryan Caskey, director of state elections in the Secretary of State’s Office, was answering questions on an unrelated topic when discussion moved off the agenda and onto a new rule adopted by Kobach last week allowing incomplete registrations to be cleared away.
Under Kansas law, voters must show proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Often, that means producing a birth certificate. Individuals who fill out a registration form but don’t produce the needed proof are placed on what is commonly referred to as the “suspended voter” list.
The new rule that went into place last week allows the incomplete registrations to be eliminated 90 days after they are filed. Caskey estimated that if someone is on the list and cleared away, they could recomplete a registration form in about a minute. He also said multiple attempts have been made to contact the individuals on the list.
“This kind of reasonable kindness that we provide has gotten us into this problem and yet we get damned in national press as being horrible people who want to eliminate voters for this attempt to do things in a reasonable and even-handed way,” Fitzgerald said. “This argues in favor of doing what I said to begin with: have your documentation or you will not have your application accepted.”
Fitzgerald questioned why the registrations aren’t immediately tossed out if someone doesn’t have all the needed documents when registering. Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, said people don’t typically carry their birth certificates with them.
Caskey said people sometimes forget to bring the documents they need when going to register.
“So, I legitimately do everything in my power to register people to vote under the laws of the state of Kansas. So we’re bending over backwards to allow people the opportunity to register to vote under the current law,” Caskey said.
Fitzgerald replied that no good deed goes unpunished.
“I don’t know why we continue to allow ourselves to be pilloried around the world because we’re being nice,” Fitzgerald said.
Caskey said individuals who submitted incomplete registrations in March, for example, are eligible to have their registration canceled. He continued to emphasize that several attempts have been made to reach individuals on the list.
Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, expressed surprise that the 90-day rule is retroactive.
“That bothers me,” Sawyer said. “I guess I was under the assumption everybody would get to start 90 days as of Friday. That regulation didn’t exist before Friday, so how do people know they had 90 days?”
If the 90-day period has lapsed, individuals can complete a new registration form with the required documents, Caskey said. They weren’t explicitly told about the 90-day rule, he said, but all have been contacted at least twice.
“So all of them are clearly on notice there’s a deficiency in their application that does not allow them to vote in any election,” Caskey said.
Last week, just a couple days before the rule went into effect, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis filed a federal lawsuit against the rule on behalf of two individuals on the suspended list. A judge declined to issue an order halting enforcement of the rule while the lawsuit plays out.
The Kansas GOP on Tuesday called on Davis to recuse himself from the lawsuit. The party cited a state law that forbids a former lawmaker from representing anyone challenging a legislative action during their time as a lawmaker as unconstitutional “because of error in the legislative process with respect to such action or enactment unless such legislator voted no upon the enactment of the measure and declared on the record, during such term, that such legislation was unconstitutional.”
Davis told The Associated Press he intends to proceed with the case. Davis’ lawsuit alleges the Kansas citizenship requirement is unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution, not the state constitution.