The Republican-controlled Kansas House of Representatives voted Tuesday to pass legislation requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration starting June 15, in time for the 2012 election.
The legislation, which still faces a vote by the state Senate, fulfills a request by Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), who asked legislators to change the effective date from Jan. 1, 2013 to June 15 back in January. Kobach had said at the time that he wanted the new rules in place for this year's presidential election. Advocates for the bill did not bring that up in Tuesday's House debate, instead saying that the summer is a better time to educate residents about the new requirements. The bill passed 67-53.
"People are paying attention," Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) said, noting that the presidential race has heightened political attention in the state. "This is the time to educate them."
Under the terms of the law, which was originally passed last year, voters will need to present proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. Among the 13 proofs of citizenship that the state allows are birth certificates and driver's licenses, if a birth certificate was presented when the driver's license was obtained. As part of the bill to push up the date, lawmakers also want to expand the proof list to include tribal identification cards. They additionally want to extend the state's free birth certificate program to 17-year-olds who are seeking to register to vote and do not have photo ID cards. The current program only extends to those who have a photo ID card and are seeking a birth certificate to register to vote.
Opponents of the date change said moving up the date could violate federal voter registration laws, along with providing a paperwork burden for state election and motor vehicles officials. Rep. Ann Mah (D-Topeka) said technology issues which are preventing motor vehicle offices from sending scanned birth certificates to Kobach's office until August would prevent voters from registering to vote while getting driver's licenses, in violation of the federal Motor Voter law.
Schwab disagreed with Mah, saying that the motor vehicle offices can scan the birth certificates now and send them to Kobach later.
Mah also said the entire idea of proof of citizenship to vote would fail in court due to it being discriminatory against married women who change their names. Mah said that women who change their name need to provide proof of marriage and citizenship and an affidavit regarding the name change.
Schwab took issue with Mah's claims of court challenges. "I get frustrated that everyone who does not like policy says we'll end up in court," he said.
Mah also said that the entire issue is likely to factor into the current battle between moderate and conservative Republicans for control of the Kansas Senate. Moderate Republicans currently run the Senate and many face August primaries from conservatives -- whose faction controls the House. Mah said that the current bill is designed to force a Senate vote, which conservatives believe will help them in the primary if moderates vote down the date change. Kobach, who wrote Arizona and Alabama's controversial immigration laws SB 1070 and HB 56, is considered a member of the conservative faction, along with Gov. Sam Brownback (R).
Mah said she believes that forcing a Senate vote could backfire on the conservatives and instead benefit the moderates.
"This is one last chance for them to be heroes," she said.