hen Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach set out to make Kansas a national model for fighting voter fraud, he found conservative allies in the Legislature willing to enact some of the most restrictive election laws in the country. The state passed laws requiring voters to show identification to vote and requiring people to provide documentary proof of U.S. citizenship to register. Lawmakers made Kobach the only secretary of state in the country with power to prosecute voter fraud. And they made violations of state election laws a felony. But in the 2017 Kansas Legislature, with about two dozen new lawmakers elected in a moderate wave last fall, a backlash against the restrictive election laws may be brewing. Democrats are expected to push to repeal the proof-of-citizen registration requirement, which Kobach is defending on several fronts in court. One bill seeks to allow same-day registration so people can register when they go to the polls to vote. Another bill seeks to remove Kobach’s prosecutorial power and make penalties for election law violations misdemeanors rather than felonies.
Among that wave of newly elected moderate lawmakers is state Sen. Dinah Sykes, a Republican from Lenexa. She said she heard concerns about voting rights from people in her district as she campaigned. She believes Kobach “pushes the boundaries” with his prosecutorial power. She also supports same-day registration to vote. “The more people that have a voice, the better we are as a society,” Sykes said.
Not everyone agrees with pushing back against Kobach’s policies, most notably Rep. Keith Esau, the Republican from Olathe who chairs the House Elections Committee. Esau said he is happy with the way Kobach has been running things: “Elections are running smoothly, we had good turnouts.”
Kobach was back at the Legislature this past week seeking authority to bar potentially tens of thousands of people from voting in state and local races. He wants lawmakers to let him create separate voter registration lists – one for people who can vote in any election and another who can vote only in federal races. Those who register using a form provided by the federal government that does not require proof of citizenship would be on the second list.