TOPEKA, Kan. — For years, Kris Kobach has fought against illegal immigration. He helped write two of the nation’s strictest immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama and developed a now-defunct national immigration security system.
Now, Kobach, the Republican secretary of state for Kansas, is embroiled in court fights over his repeated attempts to require Kansans to provide proof of citizenship to register to vote. Although he has repeatedly lost in court, one case that remains open will determine whether thousands of Kansans will be able to vote in November’s local and state elections.
The saga began in 2011 when Kansas passed the Secure and Fair Elections Act. The law, written by Kobach, requires those registering to vote after Jan. 1, 2013, to provide documentary proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a birth certificate or a passport. Kansas is the only state trying to enforce a proof of citizenship requirement for voter registration, although Kobach wants the rest of the country to follow.
“The (SAFE Act) has been a model for other states,” he told News21. “The idea of proving citizenship has been around for a while, it’s been needed for a while, and the people of Kansas support it.”
The act also required voters registering after Jan. 1, 2012, to submit photo identification when registering to vote and to show a photo ID when voting in person. While photo ID laws have been overturned in some states as discriminatory, challenges to the Kansas law have been more focused on its proof of citizenship requirement.
Voting rights advocacy groups who have fought Kansas’ citizenship requirement argue that it would be too much of a burden for people who don’t have access to the necessary documents. Kobach says the law was intended to prevent voter fraud, including by non-U.S. citizens.
But Kobach denies any connection between his concern about illegal immigration and his apprehension about voter fraud.
“That’s been widely misreported in the press,” he told News21. “Reporters say ‘Oh, Kobach deals on this topic with illegal immigration, here he is talking about voting, he must be worried about illegal aliens voting.’ Actually, it’s more frequently the issue that people who are noncitizens who are legally here will vote.”
For Kansas’ Aug. 2 primary election, a state judge overruled Kobach and allowed people who registered to vote in person at a department of motor vehicles location without providing proof of citizenship to vote in local, state and federal elections. The judge will not decide until Sept. 21 whether these more than 17,000 Kansans will be able to vote in local and state elections in November.