Kobach: Court ruling won't block Kansas voter law
TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach promised Monday that the state will keep enforcing its proof-of-citizenship requirement for new voters even after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar Arizona law.
Kobach, a former law professor, said the two states' laws are different enough that the high court's decision doesn't apply to the Kansas statute. He said the Kansas law doesn't have the same defects that prompted the court to declare the Arizona statute in conflict with a long-standing federal law designed to make registering to vote easier.
But the Republican secretary of state's stance could prompt a federal lawsuit in Kansas from critics who believe the proof-of-citizenship law is now suspect because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The high court ruled 7-2 that the Arizona law is pre-empted by the federal voter registration law, and the majority noted that the U.S. Constitution allows Congress to "make or alter" state rules on the times, places and manner of elections for federal offices.
Kobach said the Kansas law, initially proposed by his office, was drafted carefully to avoid a conflict. Several county election officials said they were waiting for guidance from his office before considering changes.
"We're going to proceed with implementing the law," Kobach told The Associated Press during an interview. "We find nothing in the Supreme Court decision that indicates there's an infirmity with the Kansas law."
The Kansas proof-of-citizenship law applies when people register to vote in the state for the first time, requiring them to provide a birth certificate, passport or other documents. Large, bipartisan majorities in the Legislature approved the measure in 2011 at Kobach's urging, and it took effect in January.
The Arizona statute said that election officials must reject any voter registration application that is not accompanied by proof of citizenship. The Supreme Court said that rule added a requirement for using a federal registration form not imposed by Congress.
The Kansas law says elections officials must accept any voter registration forms, even if they're not accompanied by proof of U.S. citizenship. In such cases, people still can't vote until they provide the necessary proof, but the law doesn't limit the time they have to present the necessary documents to local election officials.
Kobach said of the Supreme Court ruling, "We don't anticipate that it will mean anything for Kansas."
Kobach helped draft tough laws in Arizona and Alabama for cracking down on illegal immigration but said he had no hand in Arizona's proof-of-citizenship measure.
But critics contend the Arizona and Kansas laws are so similar that the Supreme Court ruling applies to the Kansas statute. Holly Weatherford, program director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri, said the issue doesn't rest with "any technical differences" but with whether the state is undercutting a federal policy favoring easier voter registration.
She said that if Kansas officials continue enforcing the state's law, the ACLU will take "a very strong look" at litigation.
"The Supreme Court is clear in this decision," Weatherford said.
Kobach and other supporters argue that proof-of-citizenship requirements prevent non-citizens, including immigrants in the U.S. illegally, from registering and voting and. In 2011, when lawmakers approved the policy, Kobach said his office found 32 non-citizens registered to vote in the state.
"Our goal is to make sure that only legal residents vote in elections," said Kansas House Elections Committee Chairman Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican and Kobach ally.
Kansas has about 1.7 million registered voters, and critics of the proof-of-citizenship law see the threat of non-citizens voting as tiny. They believe proof-of-citizenship requirements are far more likely to prevent elderly, minority and young citizens from registering.
Louis Goseland, coordinator for KanVote, a Wichita group opposed to such requirements, said it had anticipated the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the Arizona law.
"This is a step in the right director to restore the voting rights that have made our democracy what it is," he said.