In democracy, your vote is your voice. Under the administration of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, that voice has been stifled for thousands of would-be voters.
Kobach’s measures, put in place to keep noncitizens away from the voting booths on Election Day, require Kansans to provide proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate when registering to vote.
This restriction, similar to others enacted by conservative lawmakers in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas, has been called into question as an unconstitutional deterrent to citizens who would otherwise vote.
Under the National Voter Registration Act, states need only “minimal information” to grant the right to vote, and this measure extends far past the minimum.
There is no legitimate evidence that noncitizens are making a concerted effort to participate in elections, and the last thing most individuals living off the grid want to do is call attention to themselves by registering officially with the state.
Such restrictions have the biggest negative impact on Kansas citizens who simply want to exercise their constitutional right. Such a deterrent leaves thousands of individuals who have trouble producing proof of citizenship for various reasons with nowhere to turn.
This restriction has hit minority groups and young voters especially hard since its enactment in 2013, and liberal camps have gone as far as to accuse Kobach of taking politically motivated action to keep historically Democratic voters away from the polls.
Kobach resents such claims and views noncitizen voting as a serious issue, but the numbers simply do not back him up. Between 1995 and 2013, there have only been three cases of noncitizen voter fraud documented in Kansas. Cracking down on a nearly nonexistent issue is not worth disenfranchising as many as 50,000 voters as estimated by the state.
Federal courts have already struck down part of the legislation, ruling that Kansas cannot require individuals to provide proof of citizenship while registering to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Despite this step in the right direction, Kansans who attempt to register online or via the state form are still subject to the rigorous proof of citizenship criteria.
Another lawsuit contests the law on the grounds of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection for all citizens. Kobach’s office has yet to answer the plaintiff’s complaint, and if action is not taken soon, the restrictive policy could be rejected in its entirety.
The U.S. has a grim history of systematically excluding entire demographics from participating in our democracy. Outrageously discriminatory restrictions in the post-Civil War South deterred African Americans from voicing their opinions, and Kansas must tread lightly.
Of course the restrictions enacted by Kris Kobach are not overtly malicious, but our country has a history, and it is important to learn from the past. The right to vote is just that—a right—not a privilege.