Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) defended the state's new voter identification law as a way to prevent election fraud during a stop in Wichita, Kan., Thursday.
Kobach, the state's chief election official, faced questioning from a group of 30 Wichita residents who accused him of trying to surpress voter turnout around the state, the Wichita Eagle reports. The Republican-controlled state legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback (R) adopted the new law in 2011 with the requirement taking effect on Jan. 1, 2013.
Kobach defended the law -- which he championed -- as a way to prevent voter fraud in the state. He also said that residents should not place blame on him, saying that state legislators are the ones who passed the law and he is only implementing it.
Asked by one audience member how the new laws came about, Kobach said lawmakers voted for them by an overwhelming majority in the Legislature.
“If you think my ideas are bad, then you should also think the ideas of your legislators are bad,” he said, drawing derisive laughter.
One audience member accused Kobach of coming to office looking to suppress voters and shouted at Kobach when he tried to respond.
When someone argued that the laws make voting harder, Kobach said voter turnout was higher than normal at elections that have been held under portions of the new laws this year.
Voter identification advocates nationally have said that the law will increase voter turnout. During a debate last month in the New Hampshire House of Representatives on reducing the number of acceptable IDs, Republican lawmakers said that similar laws have increased voter turnout in Tennessee and Wichita.
KWCH reports that there were 221 cases of voter fraud in Kansas between 1997 and 2010.
Kobach has been touring the state to provide information on the new law, which allows for 13 forms of ID, including Kansas driver's licenses, passports and birth certificates. Last month, moderate state Senate Republicans stopped Kobach's bid to move up implementation of the new voter ID law to June 15, in order to have the requirement in place for the presidential election. The conservative Republican House had passed the new date of implementation, but state Senate leaders denied consideration of the bill based on procedural rules. State House Republicans had amended a Senate bill relating to campaign finance to contain the voter ID change in order to force a Senate vote, a process known in Topeka, Kan., as "gut and go."
Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton) ruled the bill "materially altered" and ordered it back to committee for discussion, effectively killing it due to the late date in the session. Morris and moderate Senate Republicans have been locked in a bitter civil war with conservative Republicans -- which includes the House leadership, Brownback and Kobach -- for over a year. The Kansas Legislature formally adjourned its annual session Friday, and is unlikely to return to Topeka for the rest of the year.
During the House debate, supporters said the new date was needed to better educate voters at a time when interest in voting is higher. Opponents said that the requirement could not be implemented at the earlier date due to technology issues at state motor vehicle offices, where many voters are registered. Rep. Ann Mah (D-Topeka) also voiced concern about a requirement in the law that requires married women who change their names to present a marriage license and a sworn affidavit about the marriage and name change in order to receive a new license and voter registration.