TOPEKA, Kansas — Secretary of State Kris Kobach's opponent in the Republican primary predicted Tuesday that a "dual" voting system designed by him to help Kansas enforce a proof-of-citizenship rule will confuse voters and suppress turnout.
Challenger Scott Morgan's criticism of Kobach came a day after the secretary of state's office began mailing notices to 222 voters who registered using a national form without providing proof of their U.S. citizenship to election officials. Kobach advised counties last month to set aside those voters' ballots and count only their votes in congressional races in the Aug. 5 election.
"It becomes baffling," Morgan said. "It doesn't take much to persuade Kansans that there are better things to do with their time than vote, because they're pretty disillusioned with a lot of what's going on."
The new policy was a response to an uncertain legal climate surrounding Kansas' handling of national voter registration forms, which require only that voters sign a statement affirming their U.S. citizenship.
Kobach dismissed his challenger's criticism, saying, "Maybe Mr. Morgan is confused."
States must accept the national form, but Kansas and Arizona filed a lawsuit last year in hopes of forcing the federal government to add specific instructions to help the two states enforce their proof-of-citizenship laws. With that case before a federal appeals court, the American Civil Liberties Union last month lost a separate state-court battle to force Kansas to accept the national forms without citizenship papers and count the voters' full ballots.
The registrations of nearly 19,500 prospective Kansas voters are on hold because they have not yet documented their citizenship. Those who used the state form — the vast majority — will have their ballots set aside and none of their votes will be counted.
Kobach is the architect of the proof-of-citizenship law and argues that it is preventing illegal voting by noncitizens, particularly immigrants in the U.S. illegally. The law took effect last year.
Morgan contends Kobach has inflated the danger of such fraud and said the new policy to help enforce the law will erode trust in the fairness of the state's elections.
"I think it will suppress the vote," Morgan said. "Everything he's put in place is designed, almost, to dissuade people from bothering to register or to show up."
But Kobach said the notices to voters using the national form give them another chance to produce citizenship papers before the election. If they don't, he said, they'll get the same ballot as other voters at each polling place. Theirs will be set aside using the standard procedure when poll workers doubt someone is eligible, he said.
"I don't think there'll be any voters who are confused," Kobach said.
Kobach is seeking his second, four-year term as secretary of state. The GOP primary winner will face Democratic former state Sen. Jean Schodorf, of Wichita.
Scott Morgan's campaign: http://www.scottmorganforsos.org/
Kris Kobach's re-election campaign: http://www.kansansforkobach.com/