This is the consequence of passing bad law. Kansas is set to become the national example for how poorly thought out legislation can undercut the right to vote. Changes the Legislature approved in 2012 are being compared to the days of poll taxes. It’s not a stretch. This go-round, thousands of would-be voters were excluded, not by race. It was over their ready access to documents, birth certificates and passports that they needed to produce to prove their citizenship. By court order, on Tuesday, the state had to begin adding at least 18,000 people to voter rolls — potential voters who’d been kept off by the new law when they tried to register at motor vehicle offices. Problem is, rectifying the people’s voting status can’t be accomplished by the flip of a switch. Secretary of State Kris Kobach argued it. He told a federal appeals court that the confusion his policies have created will be an administrative nightmare for the 105 counties in the state to fix. He submitted that many checks of records will need to be done manually, that not everything is automated. And that it will be costly to counties.
That was his rationale for keeping the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals from ordering Kansas to register for the November federal election the people it had suspended under the new law. Another complication may be the incompatibility of databases, such as those of county election officials and the department of motor vehicles. So registration procedures described as a “needless bureaucratic maze” in a lawsuit may continue to impede Kansas residents who want to vote.
The fiasco won’t be fixed anytime soon. The issue remains under appeal, with the next court date in late August. “It’s going to be years and years,” said Marge Ahrens, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas. “When you pass bad laws, it takes years to fix.” The league, in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the state on behalf of individual plaintiffs.
Time will tell if the people are fairly turned to active voter status. Some election officials, in interviews this week, have stoically said the people will be added to the rolls relatively easily. But some are officials appointed by Kobach, and they can be removed from their posts by him too. They may not feel free to comment fully, despite being dedicated to the task.