Category Archives: Voting

Should churches be able to endorse candidates?

A new report by a group of faith leaders calls for an end to the ban on churches and other houses of worship endorsing political candidates, the Washington Post reported. The faith leaders – mostly conservative evangelical pastors – argue that it is a free-speech issue and complain that the current decades-old ban is poorly enforced. Some argue that lifting the endorsement ban might not have a significant impact, because many churches would be concerned about driving away members who don’t like mixing partisan politics and religion. Overall, only 27 percent of Americans think churches should endorse candidates, with 66 percent opposed, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

KDOR doesn’t accept any blame for ‘suspended’ voters

Wednesday’s Eagle editorial argued that Gov. Sam Brownback’s Kansas Department of Revenue shares some responsibility for the problem of nearly 14,000 Kansans whose voter registrations are “in suspense” because of the new proof-of-citizenship requirement. Not so, said KDOR spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda. She said the driver’s license offices’ current computer system is capable of handling citizenship documents “and has been doing so for a few years now.” She also said: “The records coming from our offices that election officials have deemed to be in suspense are people who did not have citizenship documents with them when they came in to our office – meaning they came in to do something like renew their license or change their name.” As for a recent Lawrence Journal-World report that “local election officials say a number of people contacted to provide proof of citizenship say they presented that proof at the driver’s license office”: Koranda said, “Our records show that the ones that are affected by this did not provide proof.”

Will abortion ban and voter law be part of special session?

Though Gov. Sam Brownback and legislative leaders wanted the Sept. 3 special session to focus only on rewriting the state’s Hard 50 criminal-sentencing law, the agenda already has expanded to include confirmation votes on as many as 19 gubernatorial appointees. Others are interested in lengthening the to-do list, perhaps with a bill “prohibiting an abortion of an unborn human individual with a detectable fetal heartbeat” or, in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in an Arizona case, by reopening the debate over Kansas’ law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote. But “we’re not opening up this to legislation that’s left over or pending,” said House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell. “If we start doing that, it’s expensive to have a special session. I’m all in favor of saving the taxpayers dollars and getting this over with.” As our Wednesday editorial said, with the “special session costing $35,000 or more daily, taxpayers have a right to expect it not to last a minute longer than necessary.”

Wannabe voters ‘in suspense’ are less partisan

More than 12,000 Kansans’ right to vote is in limbo, with their registrations held “in suspense” due to the new state law requiring proof of citizenship to register. It’s particularly concerning that, according to the Lawrence Journal-World, some of those whose registrations have been delayed say they already presented documents verifying citizenship to their driver’s license office. A legislative panel recently declined Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s request to let such wannabe voters cast provisional ballots in upcoming local elections because, as League of Women Voters of Kansas president Dolores Furtado noted, “It doesn’t fix the problem, it just disguises it.” The more than 12,000 suspended voters are less partisan – 57 percent unaffiliated, 23 percent Republicans and 18 percent Democrats – than the state’s more than 1.7 million already registered voters, who are 45 percent Republicans, 30 percent unaffiliated and 25 percent Democrats.

12,000 suspended voters insignificant?

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was remarkably cavalier about 12,000 Kansans (including about 2,400 in Sedgwick County) who registered to vote but were put “in suspense” because they may not have provided proof of citizenship. “I don’t think it’s a major problem,” Kobach said. “This is a pretty tiny percentage of 1.8 million voters. It’s a small number of people.” But when Kobach sold the Legislature on enacting new voting laws, he treated voter fraud as an epidemic, even though it is minuscule in comparison. According to records before Kobach took office in 2011, there had been only seven cases of alleged fraud referred to local, state or federal authorities in five years, and only one of those cases was prosecuted.

Challenging the facts of Kobach’s defense

Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s robust recent defense of his voting laws in The Eagle had factual problems, according to a Winfield Daily Courier article and a Kansas City Star columnist. In the course of his June 29 response to an Eagle editorial about his law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote, Kobach described a 1997 incident in which “a bus full of individuals believed to be aliens rolled up” to the Cowley County Clerk’s Office and registered to vote in a ballot election related to hog farming. On Saturday the Winfield Daily Courier reported that no such incident had happened, and that a call to Kobach’s office revealed “what Kobach meant to write was Seward County.” (Dee Leete, who was Seward County clerk in 1997, confirmed the story, saying “there were people claiming to live in Liberal but who were being bused in from an out-of-state workplace” and “we were dealing with serious voter fraud” – though no one was prosecuted.) As for Kobach’s claim that a 2010 Missouri House “election was stolen” by one vote when J.J. Rizzo “received about 50 votes illegally cast by citizens of Somalia”: Kansas City Star columnist Yael Abouhalkah, while noting there were lots of allegations about voting irregularities involving Somalis, quoted a Jackson County judge’s ruling in August 2010 that “credible evidence proves that there was no voter misconduct and there was no voter fraud with regard to this election.” Abouhalkah concluded that Kobach “needs to find a better case before he – an elected official – states publicly that an election was illegally stolen.”

How could Kobach still believe he is correct?

How could Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach think that Kansas’ law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote is constitutional when a nearly identical Arizona law was tossed out by the U.S. Supreme Court? Kansas City Star contributor Steve Rose suggested several reasons, including: “His ego is so bloated Kobach cannot conceive that he could possibly be wrong,” “Kobach is so anti-immigrant (OK, illegal immigrant) he is blinded by his own prejudices,” and “Kobach is so unbelievably ambitious that he will step on anyone and stoop to any level to raise his own profile.”

More than 11,000 so far suspended from voting rolls

Since Jan. 1, more than 11,000 people in Kansas who have attempted to register to vote have been placed in “suspense” because of lack of proof of citizenship, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. That is more than 1 in 3 registration applications during that period. The U.S. Supreme Court tossed out an Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship to register, but Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach insists that Kansas’ requirement is legal. An analysis of Douglas County registrations found that the vast majority of people in suspense registered at the state’s Division of Vehicles. That office is supposed to send citizenship documentation to election officials electronically, but that isn’t happening, the Journal-World reported.

Kobach doesn’t need more power

Though the issue is sure to return next year, it was good that lawmakers balked at giving Secretary of State Kris Kobach prosecutorial powers. Kobach has been pushing for that power so he can continue his quixotic crusade against voter fraud. But the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association opposed the bill, noting that voter fraud comes under local prosecutors’ jurisdiction. Some lawmakers also were wisely concerned about giving Kobach more power.

Women a majority on Topeka City Council

Though Wichita’s low-turnout election last week barely qualified as news, Topeka voters made history by electing four women to the City Council. That means women now hold five of nine seats – their first majority in the council’s 28-year history. “I think a real theme of Topeka is freedom and offering an opportunity to anybody who is willing to step up,” re-elected council member Karen Hiller told the Topeka Capital-Journal. The election brought to mind both the historic election of an all-female Syracuse city council in 1887, just after Kansas amended the constitution to allow women to vote and hold municipal offices, and the city-county fight in Topeka in 2011 over paying for prosecution of domestic violence cases, which drew national headlines such as “Enjoy Hitting Your Spouse? Move to Topeka.” In contrast, Wichita has two women on its seven-member City Council; it reached a peak of three a few years ago.

Though turnout was low, voters made good choices

Wichita voters made good choices in Tuesday’s election. They wisely re-elected James Clendenin, Lavonta Williams and Janet Miller to the Wichita City Council. Also, Jeff Blubaugh appears to have defeated Joshua Blick in District 4, though provisional ballots won’t be counted until April 11. In the Wichita school board races, Michael Rodee won in District 5, while Joy Eakins has a slight lead over Scott B. Poor in District 2. The disappointments this election were the low turnout (only 6.19 percent in Sedgwick County) and some ugly campaigning and vandalism. Blick had his home and campaign signs defaced and a vehicle window smashed, and he obtained a protection-from-stalking order against former candidate Craig Gabel, who also is being investigated for possible campaign-finance violations.

Don’t forget to vote

It may have gotten lost amid all the excitement about the NCAA basketball tournament, but there is an important election Tuesday. In Wichita, four City Council races are on the ballot, and there are two contested Wichita school board races. Those elected to these governing bodies will face difficult challenges, deciding how the city government promotes economic development and how the school district responds to reduced state funding. Visit The Eagle’s online voter guide to read the candidates’ stances on issues. The Eagle editorial board’s endorsements are at Kansas.com/opinion. And be sure to vote either in advance from 8 a.m. to noon Monday at the Sedgwick County Election Office or Tuesday at your polling place.

Kansas’ real problem is voter apathy

While he is distracted with his quest against voter fraud, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is neglecting the real problem – voter apathy. According to research from the group Nonprofit Vote, which calculated percentages by dividing the number of ballots cast by the voting eligible population, Kansas slipped to 36th place among states in 2012 for voter turnout, with 58.1 percent. That was down from 28th place in 2008, and less than the 58.7 percent national turnout in 2012. The group found that voter turnout was 12 percentage points higher in states with Election Day registration. Kansas law cuts off voter registration 21 days before any election and, as of this year, requires proof of citizenship to register to vote. Worse, a ridiculous bill passed by the Kansas House this month and awaiting Senate consideration would bar people from switching parties after the candidate filing deadline of June 1 in advance of an August primary election. Proponents argue it would protect the integrity of each party from the undue influence of the other, but it would erode the right of voters to participate in the primary of their choice.

Shouldn’t someone be able to postpone election?

As a second snowstorm threatened Kansas and Tuesday’s primary election, Secretary of State Kris Kobach took the welcome step of extending the hours for early voting on Monday while noting state law doesn’t allow for an election to be postponed. In a state prone to extreme weather, shouldn’t there be some flexibility to ensure citizens are able to vote? V. Kay Curtis, spokeswoman for Kobach’s office, later told The Eagle editorial board that the Legislature could give the secretary of state discretion to change election dates other than November general elections. But “the date for the November election is set forth in the Kansas Constitution, so changing that date would take a constitutional amendment,” Curtis said.

Voters, poll workers deserve credit for primary

What a relief that Tuesday’s primary election in Sedgwick County escaped the inexcusable problems of last year’s primary and general elections. Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman even had full results available 90 minutes after the polls closed, a feat surely aided by the puny 4.69 percent turnout. The timely results were a vast improvement over Nov. 6, when it took nearly four hours to get any returns and more than six hours to get final totals. The 4,000 or so voters set up a worthy April 2 general election contest in District 4 between Joshua Blick and Jeff Blubaugh and overwhelmingly endorsed able incumbents Janet Miller in District 6 and James Clendenin in District 3 over weak challengers. The poll workers, volunteers and voters who participated deserve praise for doing their civic duty amid snowy conditions.

Believe it or not, there is an election Tuesday

Though it hasn’t generated much attention, there is an election Tuesday. In Wichita, voters in the southeast, southwest and north-central areas of the city will choose which two candidates for City Council advance to the April 2 general election. Turnout likely will be low, so every vote could have a significant impact. And there are important issues in this election, including the role of government in economic development and the future of the city’s public bus system. For more information about the candidates, visit The Eagle’s online voter guide or The Eagle editorial board’s endorsements.

August is poor time to amend state constitution

Even those who think Kansas needs to alter its constitution to try to prevent courts from making decisions about school funding should see a glaring problem with the amendment approved Wednesday by the Senate: It would put the issue to voters at the August 2014 primary. It was wrong to hold a vote to rewrite the state constitution to bar same-sex marriage in April 2005, when only 35.5 percent of registered voters turned out. It would be just as wrong to try to rewrite the constitution in an August primary, especially one in which seats for only one chamber of the Legislature are on the ballot. Turnout was 23.2 percent statewide in August 2012 and 25.2 percent in August 2010, compared with 66.8 and 49.7 percent in the general elections of those years. As state Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, argued Wednesday in unsuccessfully trying to persuade senators to move the vote to November 2014, independent voters may not even realize they can vote in a primary on the issue. If the House agrees to put the amendment on the ballot, it at least should change the date.

Voters should understand what’s on the ballot

Good for Secretary of State Kris Kobach for backing a bill that would allow a plain-language “explainer” to be posted at election sites when a ballot measure is too confusing. Wichita’s vote last year on the Ambassador Hotel tax subsidy was exhibit one for why such explanations are sometimes needed. The ballot measure was filled with so much legalese (as required by the state constitution) that it was difficult to decipher what a “yes” or “no” vote meant. And election officials are prohibited from explaining the measure to voters. One concern about an official explanation is that it might be written in a way that influences voting. But the bill includes checks to ensure the explanation isn’t biased.

Proposed date for constitution vote not very democratic

GOP state senators say they want to change how Kansas selects its Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges in order to make the process more “democratic.” Yet nearly all of them opposed an amendment by Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, to have the public vote on changing the state’s constitution as part of the November 2014 general election, rather than during the August 2014 primaries. Few Kansans vote in the primaries, and those who do are disproportionately conservative Republicans. But that, of course, is why the senators want the vote in August.

It was easy to stop nonexistent voter problems

State Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, isn’t impressed with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s claim that new voting laws he championed stopped 90 percent of past voter problems in the state. “Hey, they could have prevented 100 percent since there were no past problems,” Mah said. “A 100 percent of nothing is nothing.” Mah added: “When you make up a problem, it’s pretty easy to stop it. I didn’t hear about anyone dropping over with a heart attack at the polls; I think he stopped that, too.”

Kobach says 532 Kansans ‘chose not to’ have their votes count

In the general election in Kansas, 838 voters failed to bring photo IDs to the polls and, because of that, filled out provisional ballots, with only 306 following up after the election to ensure their votes counted. Responding to an editorial in the Hays Daily News, Secretary of State Kris Kobach rejected the argument that the 532 remaining voters were “disenfranchised.” Those voters “could have presented their photo IDs to the county clerk or election office to make their ballots count, but they chose not to,” he wrote, noting that it’s common for thousands of provisional ballots not to be counted because the would-be voters weren’t registered or failed to sign their advance-ballot envelopes. “But of course, you don’t hear liberal editorial writers complaining that voter registration requirements or signature requirements disenfranchise people,” Kobach wrote. He concluded that the Secure and Fair Elections Act “gives confidence to voters and candidates alike that the system is fair. And that confidence strengthens our republic.”

Democrats citing Kobach to raise money

The Kansas Democratic Party is soliciting contributions for a “Kris Kobach Defense Fund,” e-mailing potential donors that “by creating a legal defense fund we can continue fighting Kris Kobach’s dangerous anti-voter agenda.” Party spokesman Dakota Loomis told Huffington Post: “Given Kobach’s repeated behavior, we expect to go to court in 2013 and 2014.” Kobach, Kansas secretary of state since 2011, pushed for the law requiring photo ID to vote that went into effect this year, and the requirement, as of January, that Kansans show proof of citizenship to register to vote.

Kansans have little in common with national voters

How much do Kansas voters differ from voters nationally? A lot. Political science professor Bob Beatty noted some of the striking differences reflected in exit polling, including: Mitt Romney won the male vote in Kansas by a whopping 40 points (69 to 29 percent). Nationally, Romney won men by 7 points (52 to 45 percent). Among younger voters, ages 18-29, Romney won by 13 points in Kansas (54 to 41 percent), while nationally Obama won those voters by 23 points. One big difference between Kansas and national demographics is race. Nationally, white voters made up 72 percent of all voters, and they went for Romney by 20 points (59 to 39 percent). In Kansas, whites were 87 percent of all voters and went for Romney by 31 points (64 to 33 percent). White men went for Romney by 27 points nationally (62 to 35 percent), but in Kansas 74 percent of all white men voted for Romney, giving him a 50-point advantage over Obama.

Most states will have one-party control

Though the federal government will remain divided – with Democrats controlling the White House and Senate, and Republicans in charge in the House – most state governments will be controlled by one party next year. Twenty-five states (including Kansas) will have Republican governors and Republicans in control of both houses of their legislatures, while 15 states will have Democratic governors and Democrats in control of their legislatures. One consequence of one-party control is that it can spotlight conflicts within a party, columnist Michael Barone noted, citing Kansas as an example. “The key event in Kansas politics this year was the defeat of moderate state senators by Republicans in the August primary,” he wrote. “The November election was irrelevant.”

Too many were disenfranchised by voter-ID law

Of the 80 Sedgwick County voters who showed up at the polls this month without a photo ID, 61 failed to later provide proof of their eligibility to vote and saw their ballots disqualified – not many, considering that 180,000 people in the county voted. But those are people whose votes would have counted in any election before this year, when Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s law requiring photo ID to vote took effect. And if you add up the number of such voters across Kansas’ 105 counties – seven in Reno County, eight in Saline County, 12 in Marion County, 16 in McPherson County, etc. – the tally of uncounted votes is significant and troubling. Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, wrote in an online comment regarding McPherson County: I “recall that during the hearings on the voter ID law (which I supported at the time) all we heard was ‘one case of voter fraud was one too many!’ However, throwing out the votes of 16 U.S. citizens who were guaranteed that right under the Constitution in just one county is no big deal? Yes, it is. It would be 16 more votes lost than all of the actual voter fraud cases Secretary Kobach could find in the 2010 election – which was zero.” Mah, who narrowly lost her re-election bid this month, told The Eagle editorial board she intends to continue her scrutiny. But Kansans also will need lawmakers willing to safeguard the right to vote in Kansas. Last week Kobach characterized the 717 provisional ballots cast statewide because of photo ID issues as evidence that the new law is a success.