TOPEKA (AP) — A Kansas law requiring people to show photo ID at the polls and provide proof-of-citizenship documents to register to vote may discriminate against minorities, a civil rights advisory panel contends.
The Kansas Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights issued a draft report urging the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to investigate whether the Kansas law violates federal voting laws. The Kansas City Star first reported on the report.
The Safe and Fair Elections Act, passed in 2011, has been championed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as a way to prevent voter fraud. Voter ID laws are usually pushed by Republicans. Critics argue in-person voter fraud is nearly non-existent and that such requirements are actually meant to suppress turnout among groups that typically vote Democratic, such as college students and the elderly.
Kobach, a conservative Republican, called concerns that the state law was written and implemented with discriminatory intent an outrageous accusation and said the evidence cited by the committee is poorly reasoned.
“It looks like it’s been written by a third-grader,” Kobach said.
Kobach is seeking to create a tiered voting system, which a district judge ruled he did not have. A bill considered Tuesday by the Senate elections committee would prevent voters who hadn’t proved their citizenship from voting in state and local races while a federal judge said the state couldn’t require proof of citizenship from citizens registering for federal elections at motor vehicle offices.
Kobach has argued that the proof of citizenship requirement combats a “significant” problem of noncitizens voting, pointing to 115 cases in recent years in which noncitizens were registered to vote. From 1995 through 2013, there were only three instances in which a noncitizen voted in Kansas , and those opposed to a two-tiered system say it would disenfranchise about 18,000 legal voters.
An analysis by Emporia State University professor Michael Smith shows a correlation between census tracks with a high number of blacks and areas with a disproportionate number of voters on a suspense list of incomplete applications, according to the report.
“It does look like lower-income precincts with a large African-American population are more affected than others,” Smith said Monday. “It doesn’t seem to be race-neutral in its effect.”
The report noted eligible voters may be required to pay for their documents, comparing it to a poll tax that was used to disenfranchise blacks in the Jim Crow era in the South.
On Monday, Democratic Rep. Jarrod Ousley introduced a bill to repeal the SAFE Act based on the report. The Merriam lawmaker said the law has kept more eligible people from voting than it has deterred illegal voting.
Rep. Keith Esau, the Olathe Republican who chairs the House elections committee, asked to see the report.
“I don’t think we’re violating anybody’s rights,” Esau said. “We’re protecting the rights of Kansas citizens.”
The panel’s report is based on a public hearing held last month in Topeka.
Kansas should make it easier to vote, not more difficult, said state Rep. Melissa Rooker, R-Fairway.
“I would welcome further investigation to be sure that the rights of our voters are not trampled upon,” she said.
Each state has a committee to advise the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a federal agency that studies allegations of discrimination.