Kansas legislators are refusing to move up the starting date for a proof-of-citizenship requirement for people registering to vote for the first time or to give Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office new power to prosecute election fraud cases. The rejection of those proposals Wednesday by a bipartisan majority in the state Senate is a political defeat for the Republican secretary of state, who took office in January. It came after he successfully pushed for a law designed to combat election fraud, one he touted as model legislation for other states.
That law requires voters to show photo identification at the polls, starting next year, and says anyone registering for the first time must provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of citizenship to election officials, starting in 2013, though a Kansas driver’s license will be sufficient for many. Kobach had hoped the proof-of-citizenship rule would take effect next year and that his office would gain the power to file and prosecute election cases in state courts — and didn’t stop pushing even after Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a compromise version of Kobach’s proposed Secure and Fair Elections Act.
The vote Wednesday in the Senate was 23-15 against a bill revising the election law enacted earlier this year. Some critics renewed longstanding arguments that election fraud is nowhere near as serious a problem as Kobach says it is, while others resented his efforts to revise a law that had strong bipartisan support.
“You don’t unravel the deal after it’s finished,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat. “And he needs to learn that.”
Kobach didn’t return messages left on his cellphone and his office did not issue a statement.