Opponents criticize effort to move up start date of citizenship requirement for voter registration

TOPEKA – Kansas is ill-prepared to ensure poor, elderly, minority and transient Kansans have convenient access to documents and ID cards that will allow them to cast a ballot in elections this year, voter advocates said this morning.

Louis Goseland, who represents the KanVote group fighting voter suppression, said he and others in Wichita have tested agencies to see if they’re prepared for voter ID laws now in effect and that those agencies seem uninformed and unprepared to help would-be voters.

“It’s just been one thing after another,” he told the House Elections Committee this morning.

Goseland’s assessment comes as part of the back-and-forth between advocacy groups and those who support Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s proposal to move-up the effective date of a new law that will require people registering to vote in Kansas for the first time to prove their U.S. citizenship with one of 12 forms of identification, including a birth certificate.

Kobach has said that is the only way to prevent non-citizens from getting on Kansas voter rolls. Already, he has said, folks who are not U.S. citizens, such as people here on work visas, have been spotted on Kansas voter lists.

He has said 32 people who are not U.S. citizens were on voter rolls last year. “When the total number of illegal undocumented aliens is calculated, this number could be much higher,” he said, noting that there’s no way to know for sure how many illegal immigrants may be registered to vote.

Kobach said it’s important to start requiring voters registering in Kansas for the first time to prove their citizenship before the run-up to this fall’s presidential elections, when registrations increase.

But critics say Kobach has overblown the prevalence of voter fraud, and they question whether his office’s planned $300,000 voter education campaign is enough to inform voters about the nuances of the law.

Sulma Arias, executive director of Sunflower Community Action, said she immigrated without documents about 30 years ago. Now she has three well-educated daughters. She and her daughters are U.S. citizens, she said.

“What worries me is that this bill was passed in part on the wrong perception that there is a threat from undocumented immigrants who might try to sabotage our elections,” she said.

She said there have been only seven cases documented and that she worries the law sends a message that immigrants aren’t wanted in Kansas.

“We are accused of being criminals and of being a drain on the state economy,” she said. “This kind of rhetoric creates a hostile environment where one feels unwelcome and afraid.”