For too long, Kansas has captured the rest of the country’s attention for all the wrong reasons.
From the notorious failure of Gov. Sam Brownback’s supply-side economic experiment to the zealous campaign of voter suppression waged by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Kansans rarely have any reason to be proud of the headlines their state generates. But that won’t be the case forever. Not only did our lawmakers repeal the Brownback tax cuts this session, but Kansans are also fighting back against efforts to disenfranchise their fellow citizens.
On Sunday, the American Civil Liberties Union is launching a 50-state voting rights campaign at the Lied Center in Lawrence. According to the executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, Micah Kubic, the decision to hold the first “Let People Vote” event in our state is no coincidence: “The kickoff is in Kansas because Secretary Kobach has really made Kansas into a national story in terms of the restrictions on citizen participation that exist here.”
Kansas has the most restrictive election laws in the country. Moreover, Kobach is the only secretary of state with the power to prosecute individual cases of voter fraud. While he has only obtained two convictions of noncitizen voters, he still believes his cause justifies policies that prevent thousands of registered voters from casting their ballots. For example, 18,000 Kansans were removed from the voter rolls after they were unable to present proof of citizenship when they registered. It took four ACLU lawsuits to restore the voting rights that were stripped by this requirement, but the law that forces Kansans to show citizenship ID when they register (the Secure and Fair Elections Act) is still on the books.
Along with the national campaign, the Kansas Coalition for Citizen Participation will also be announced at the ACLU event on Sunday.
The coalition comprises almost 20 Kansas organizations that are committed to increasing civic engagement and voter participation in the state, and one of their main priorities is the repeal of policies that obstruct Kansans’ ability to vote — including the SAFE Act. The coalition will also support positive measures to increase citizen participation, including an expansion of early voting, the enactment of Election Day registration, withdrawal from the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck system and the implementation of permanent advance voting.
These are all measures that would increase civic engagement by making it easier to vote and more difficult for the state to impose barriers to democratic participation. For example, although research on voter turnout varies, the 16 states that offer Election Day registration consistently have higher turnout rates than the rest of the country — even by as much as 10 percentage points. In a recent screed for Breitbart, Kobach attempted to “prove” the risk of voter fraud posed by Election Day registration in New Hampshire. But the sheer dishonesty and confusion of his argument (which drew sweeping conclusions from very limited data) earned him the scorn of election analysts, journalists and even fellow members of Trump’s voter fraud commission.
The elimination of suffocating bureaucratic obstacles to citizen participation is long overdue in Kansas. And while it’s critical to offer a positive program of reform, we must simultaneously oppose the destructive policies that have turned Kansas into a laboratory for voter suppression.
We have a secretary of state who’s abdicating his responsibilities by actively impeding the democratic process in Kansas, which is why we’re grateful that the Kansas Coalition for Citizen Participation is prepared to do his job for him.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.