Senate panel weakens, but passes, Kobach voter ID plan

TOPEKA — The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee today passed a weakened but still potent version of Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s bill to require photo ID and proof of citizenship for voters.

Senators stripped House Bill 2067 of provisions that would have given Kobach the authority to criminally prosecute allegations of voter fraud. The committee also voted to delay until 2013 the start date at which new voters will have to provide proof of citizenship when they register.

After the committee meeting, Kobach said the vote virtually assures that photo ID will be required when voters go to the polls or send in absentee ballots in the 2012 election.

“Some version of this bill is going to pass,” said Kobach. “We probably aren’t yet to the final language of the bill.”

He said the removal of the prosecutorial power was a procedural move, so that the bill wouldn’t have to also have to go through the Judiciary Committee on its way to the Senate floor.

He said that could be added back through floor amendments or in a House-Senate conference committee.

He had strong objections to the committee’s decision to push back by a year the date at which new registrants will have to provide a birth certificate, passport, tribal ID card or other citizenship proof.

He said that would complicate the process of educating county election officials and voters on the new requirements. He also said it will give noncitizens an extra year to sneak their names into the voting rolls — and it’s much harder to get them off than to keep them from getting on in the first place.

Sen. Kelly Kultala, D-Kansas City, said she proposed the amendment to give the Department of Motor Vehicles time to implement its plan to begin collecting and imaging license applicants’ citizenship documents — before the agency has to start sharing that information with voter registration.

The bill passed on a voice vote with only Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, recording his opposition.

After the meeting, he said he thinks the measure will make voting too difficult for many citizens and decrease voter turnout. He also said Kobach’s assertions of widespread voter fraud are greatly exaggerated.

“I don’t think there is voter fraud in the state of Kansas,” he said.

The Kansas Equality Coalition objected to a provision of the bill that would require transgendered individuals to disclose their original and current gender to register to vote.

Coalition lobbyist Thomas Witt said there are thousands of transgendered people now living quietly in Kansas.

Medical information on sex changes is now closely held by the state, but it could be dangerous for transgendered people to have to “out” themselves when they register, Witt said.

Gossip leaking out of voter registration offices around the state “will expose them to discrimination, placing their jobs, housing and even safety at risk,” Witt said. “This is a big issue.”