Senate rejects attempt to toughen voter ID bill; Schodorf says she feels guilty about ever voting for it

TOPEKA — A cantankerous  debate to move up by a year a requirement for new voters to provide proof of citizenship failed Wednesday on the Senate floor, with one senator saying she was embarrassed for Secretary of State Kris Kobach and another admitting she felt guilty for ever voting for the state’s voter ID bill.

Legislators defeated a last-minute maneuver to concur with the House on a substitute for Senate Bill 129  15-23.  That means people registering to vote won’t have to provide a birth certificate, passport or other citizenship proof until 2013.

It also means that Kobach won’t get the authority he sought to independently prosecute allegations of voter fraud.

Sen. Kelly Kultala, D-Kansas City, said she was “starting to get embarrassed” for Kobach, who made voter fraud a big part of his campaign.

Other legislators said they were offended an effort to push up the implementation date was coming up so late in the session, which traditionally ends on the 90th day. The 90th day is today.

Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, said “I am sorry this has been brought to be concurred because I believe that we already have a system that is able to investigate reports of voter (fraud) and decide whether those cases will be charged.”

She said she regretted ever voting for the voter ID bill. She called it “chilling,” especially against people of color.

“I have felt guilty for voting on it all the weeks that we’ve been here I’d not believe there is voter fraud in this state,” Schodorf said, admitting she was getting emotional about the issue.

But Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, spoke passionately in favor of the bill, arguing the secretary of state’s office needs power to prosecute people who violate voter laws.

In response, Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, questioned Abrams about how many cases of voter fraud Kansas  had in the last five years. Abrams answered “I’ve been told there were seven.”

Owens then questioned spending $65,000, the estimate for how much the measure would have cost,  “and expanding the functions of the secretary of state to criminal capacity for what in five years has been seven cases.”

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said her constituents wanted tougher protection in place.

“I have received innumerable e-mails expressing the concern about the 2013 date and that there are many, many Kansas citizens who are concerned about the integrity of our ballot box and how important it is that they are not disenfrachised,” Pilcher-Cook said.

Ernestine Krehbiel, president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, told The Eagle and earlier this week that that group was against requiring proof of citizenship on principle but especially against moving up implementation from 2013 to 2012.

Gov. Sam Browback signed the voter ID plan into law April 18. The Senate voted for it 36-3 on March 23, and it passed the House 111-11 six days later.

Sen. Terrie Huntington, R-Fairway, who chairs the Senate Elections Committee, said the law as it stands “puts Kansas at the forefront of election laws and goes farther than any other state to prevent voter fraud.”

In a news release she sent after the debate, Huntington said  she was open to additional provisions to the law but only with due diligence.

“The last thing we want to do is make changes that haven’t been vetted by the Legislature and haven’t been opened up for public input,” Huntington said.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said there were too many unknowns, including the cost to local elections offices.

“We owe it to taxpayers to get to the bottom of these questions before we move forward with any major changes,” said Morris. “The Legislature should have all the facts and know the tax implications for our communities before making a decision.”

Besides Abrams, area senators voting for the measure were Mike Petersen, R-Wichita; Susan Wagle, R-Wichita; Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard; Ty Masterson, R-Andover; and Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson.

Voting against it were Schodorf; Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita; Carolyn McGinn; R-Sedgwick; and Ruth Teichman, R-Stafford.