Kansas: Proposal could create two classes of voters
Topeka Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said it is possible to conduct elections — as Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has proposed — in which some voters are allowed to vote in all races, while others are limited to only federal contests.
But Shew said that plan would require different sets of ballots, add to the bureaucracy of voting and may depress turnout. In recent years, there have been more forms to fill out and requirements to fulfill to vote, he said.
"As we add layers, does that discourage your casual voter from participating?" he asked.
The possibility of a two-class voting system in Kansas has arisen in the ongoing controversy over a new state requirement that people registering to vote show documents, such as a birth certificate, that prove they are U.S. citizens.
Kobach, a Republican and the state's chief election official, has directed county election officials to track who has used the federal voter registration form since Jan. 1.
The idea is that people who register using the federal form would be able to vote in only federal contests, such as for Congress and president.
That is because the federal form does not require a document proving citizenship, but requires applicants to sign a sworn statement under penalty of prison time that they are citizens.
But those who register using the more common state registration form and comply with the state proof-of-citizenship requirement would be able to vote in all contests, state and federal.
Kobach has said states "control their own elections" and that "the state is a sovereign co-equal in our system."
Since the state proof-of-citizenship requirement took effect at the start of the year, 18,188 people haven't submitted citizenship proof, and their registrations are "in suspense." In Douglas County, 862 voters are in suspense, 676 because they lack proof of citizenship.
Kobach has championed the proof-of-citizenship requirement, saying it is needed to prevent noncitizens from voting. Critics say incidents of noncitizens voting in Kansas elections are almost nonexistent.
Kobach has said the two-tier voting system is a fallback position if he loses a lawsuit against the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. In that lawsuit, Kobach wants the EAC to add the Kansas proof-of-citizenship requirement to the federal voter registration form.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court in an Arizona case threw out that state's law that requires would-be voters to provide documents proving U.S. citizenship.
But Kobach said the ruling invited states to petition to have the proof-of-citizenship requirements added to the instructions of the federal form. The American Civil Liberties Union, however, has said it intends to file a lawsuit next month if Kobach doesn't stop the proof-of-citizenship requirement.
State Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, an opponent of the proof-of-citizenship requirement, said Kobach's two-class voter proposal runs counter to decades of voter rights legislation that has promoted voting and empowered voters.
"It's a very frustrating thing to watch someone go about voter suppression under the color of law, and that is what he is doing," Ward said. He said the plan "will create chaos and confusion on Election Day."