Elections

The Week in Politics: New Kansas Voter ID Rules, Ferguson's Legacy and More

The most important election news and political dynamics at the state and local levels.
by | July 15, 2016

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New Kansas Rules Could Block Votes From Counting

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is stoking controversy yet again, this time with rules that could throw out thousands of votes in upcoming elections.

The Republican made a name for himself by crusading against illegal immigration as a law professor before he was elected as secretary of state in 2010. Since then, he has focused much of his efforts on combatting what he sees as threats of voter fraud.

This week, he pushed through a last-minute change to Kansas’ election procedures that will effectively block the vote of 17,000 Kansans from counting in state and local races in August primaries. The new rule essentially establishes two tiers of voters: those who show proof of citizenship and those who do not.

Kobach advocated for the split system because a federal judge blocked a 2013 state law that Kobach championed to require voters to show proof of citizenship when they registered. U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ruled that the Kansas law conflicted with the federal National Voter Registration Act, popularly referred to as the “motor voter” law, which requires states to let people register to vote when they apply for driver’s licenses. The motor voter law says states must require only the “minimum” amount of information necessary to determine an applicant’s citizenship, and Robinson ruled that a sworn statement is sufficient.

But Robinson’s stay only applies to federal elections. So Kobach proposed an arrangement, made official this week, in which voters without the documentation required by the Kansas law can cast only provisional ballots. That means their votes will count in elections for Congress and in the general election for president but nothing else.

None of Kansas’ statewide officers (such as the governor) are on the ballot this year, but all 165 seats in the Kansas legislature are. In many areas, the August primary will effectively determine who will win the seat. The Republican Party, in particular, has been plagued by internal divisions in recent years, and many primary contests will reflect that. A moderate Republican, for example, is trying to oust the state Senate’s No. 2 leader, who is more conservative. Several seats on the state board of education, six district attorneys and dozens of judges are also on the ballot this year.

In a separate case, a local judge in Topeka twice held that Kobach’s split approach is illegal. But that judge didn't block the arrangement from going forward.

The ACLU of Kansas, League of Women Voters, Mainstream Kansas and Women for Kansas all criticized Kobach’s new rules.

“To disregard the court’s ruling and knowingly operate an illegal system would show a troublingly cavalier attitude towards the rule of law, as well as disrespect for voters themselves,” the groups wrote in a joint letter. “Voters should not be subjected to the confusion and bureaucratic hurdles that your office’s proposal would create, especially since those hurdles are wholly unnecessary.”

Ferguson's Legacy a Focus of Missouri GOP Governor's Debate

Four Republicans vying to replace term-limited Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, agreed on one thing at a debate Wednesday: Nixon did a poor job handling the aftermath of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. But each of the candidates, it seemed, took a different lesson away from the shooting, the protests and military-style police response that followed.

Many of the candidates described personal experiences in Ferguson and referred to this week’s shooting of a St. Louis-area police officer in the back during a traffic stop. The debate also came against the backdrop of the police shootings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, as well as the killing of five Dallas police officers by a sniper last week.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who kicked off his campaign in the Ferguson area and says he has returned several times, stressed the need to build relationships with people in poor and minority communities. Unlike Nixon, Kinder said, he would work closely with mayors in those areas because he’s known them for years.

“Missouri needs a governor for everyone. The hurting communities in our state like Ferguson or the inner city or the tough areas of the north St. Louis County need a governor for them,” he said.

Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL in Iraq, faulted the governor for a lack of “command presence” in Ferguson during the crisis.

“We could have had peace by the second night,” said Greitens, who said he talked with police and protesters at the scene. “There was no plan for peace. Our law enforcement officers deserve to have a leader who respects what it means to put on body armor and wear a sidearm.”

John Brunner, a businessman and former Marine, said he understood the issues facing poor and minority areas because he ran a manufacturing site in one of those areas for decades, even as other businesses left.

“There’s a lot of hope in a job. You ask, what can I do? I’ll do what I’ve done for the last 30 years: create those jobs, hang on to those jobs, grow those jobs,” he said.

Catherine Hanaway, a former prosecutor and former Missouri House speaker, said trust between police and minority communities is built on actions, not words. She called for harsher mandatory penalties for people who shoot at police officers, better community policing and more widespread adoption of body cameras. But she also indirectly criticized the rhetoric of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Arguments about which lives matter, or matter most, only tear us apart,” she said. “No one should be discriminated against because of their race or their religion and certainly not because they made the heroic choice to join a police force.”

The four face off in a primary on Aug. 2. The Republican victor will likely face Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, in the general election.

Odds and Ends

Gov. McCrory Lags Challenger in Fundraising: The North Carolina gubernatorial race may be the most competitive in the country this year. So far, though, the overwhelming majority of campaign donations for both major candidates came from in-state, reports WRAL-TV’s Mark Binker. Incumbent Pat McCrory, a Republican, received 89 percent of his money in the last four months from North Carolinians. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, relied on home-state contributions for 85 percent of his new funds.

Overall, Cooper continues to outraise McCrory, who has been criticized both in North Carolina and nationally for pushing a “bathroom” bill that limits LGBT rights. In the latest reporting period, Cooper raised $5.1 million compared to the governor’s $3.2 million. Cooper reported $9.4 million on hand, while McCrory reported that he had $6.3 million in the bank.

Trouble for de Blasio? New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is exploring the possibility of supporting a challenger to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat, in next year’s mayoral election, reports The Wall Street Journal. The two men have a running feud that’s lasted for years. Cuomo, who often teams up with Republicans who control the state Senate, has blocked many of de Blasio’s local initiatives, and the populist mayor has accused the governor of undermining the city’s interests. But meddling with the city election could backfire on the governor if de Blasio prevails anyway, the Journal notes, especially because Cuomo would be up for re-election in 2018 if he seeks another term.

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