Four Democrats seeking House seats in Shawnee County districts called for sweeping changes to the state's voter registration processes during a forum Wednesday night in Topeka.
They agreed that Kansas should consider ways to automatically register eligible voters and extend the early voting period. They also expressed dismay with Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the Republican nominee for governor who championed efforts to restrict voting to those who prove their citizenship first.
"People fraudulently voting in our state isn't a real problem," said Sarah Coats, a Democrat who hopes to unseat Republican Rep. Ken Corbet.
"We made (voting) this obstacle and barrier," Coats said. "It wasn't there before, and things were fine. How long was it not there, and it was fine? Then somebody goes and makes it a problem. And it is to purge the rolls, and it is to suppress voting."
A federal court judge earlier this year struck down the state's voter registration requirements, and issued a contempt finding because Kobach failed to comply with her order. Kobach defended the law as necessary to stamp out voter fraud, arguing that the few known examples of illegal voting were just the tip of an iceberg.
The Democrats said Kobach should pay the contempt fees out of his own pocket, rather than let the state foot the bill.
Toni Scalia, a Democrat running against incumbent Republican Rep. Brenda Dietrich, lamented the money Kobach spent "on a thankfully failed attempt to restrict voting rights for thousands of our fellow Kansans."
"And I don't believe he's done so because he thinks it's good for the state," Scalia said. "I think he's done so because he's pandering to an anti-Democratic force."
The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the state over the voter registration law, sponsored the forum, which was held at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. Kobach has said he knows he is doing the right thing if the ACLU doesn't like it.
Twelve candidates from contested races were invited to the forum, but only the four Democrats showed.
Rep. Virgil Weigel, who faces a challenge from Republican Michael Snowden, and Dan Brennan, who is running against incumbent Republican Rep. Fred Patton, joined Scalia and Coats in advocating for automatic voter registration, which has been implemented in other states, as a way of improving voter turnout.
Scalia also said the state should embrace compulsory voting, making it illegal for eligible voters not to cast a ballot.