Recent Kansas editorials
The Salina Journal, Nov. 25
We do little to encourage voting
Long before President Clinton signed the National Voter Registration Act in 1993, Kansas was leading a charge to get citizens to the polls.
For decades, our secretaries of state campaigned for such reforms as advance voting, mailed ballots, more voting stations, greater access for registration, simpler rules and ID requirements. In the 1960s and ’70s a campaign for easier access was led by Kansas Secretary of State Elwill Shanahan; more reforms came under secretaries Jack Brier (1980s), Bill Graves (‘80s-’90s) and Ron Thornburgh (’90s-2010).
All that has changed.
In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act that had required federal clearance for a state to make substantive changes in its voting laws; the idea was to keep an eye on the Jim Crow states that favored discrimination. But the Court held a naive belief that roughly a half-dozen targeted states had outgrown the need for federal watch on their election habits. They were set free of federal “preclearance.” The rest could do as they pleased.
The trouble, as we have learned, was not limited to the south.
Immigration is now an issue salted with racial overtones. It has invited fear-based campaigns for election “reform” with renewed discriminations — a suffocating voter ID process, more gerrymandering, fiddling with polling place locations, schedules and equipment, among others.
Almost overnight, citizens were required to prove, in new multiple layers, that they were eligible to vote — or for many, white enough to vote. Hispanic Dodge City, with its single polling place moved out of town; Barton County, using polling places like peas in a shell game, are prime examples.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach led the charge. He persuaded voters that hordes of illegal immigrant “aliens” were about to swarm over our borders and corrupt our elections. For Kansas, this meant two-tier elections: one ballot — federal — for the less privileged and another — with both federal and state candidates — for the more fortunate. The law was vaporized in federal court, but not until after several elections with thousands of voters denied true ballots, and tens of thousands purged from registration lists.
This shame is not a Kansas franchise. Injustice is shared among other states that have found ways to prevent certain citizens from voting.
Small wonder that the United States ranks 26th of 32 developed democratic nations in voter turnout. Our 49 percent participation is pathetic compared with, say, Belgium (87 percent), Sweden (83 percent), and Australia (79 percent). These and other more civilized countries do not throw obstacles in the way of voters, they encourage participation.
In the last election, more than 50 million Americans, and nearly a million Kansans, either weren’t registered or didn’t vote. Yet we bragged about our high turnout.
How can we improve?
We’ve begun by showing Kris Kobach the door. The next step is to encourage more registration without all the roadblocks. On the federal level, Congress must renew the attack on gerrymandering and laws that suppress even the inclination to vote.
If we’re really serious about our “democracy,” we could embrace automatic registration for all citizens at age 18, as happens in the more progressive countries. Next, we can have elections at a more convenient time than on Tuesday of a work week. We might even make a national holiday of voting; it’s that important.
Thomas Paine, a founder of our country, said voting is “the primary right by which all others are protected.”
Without more of that protection, we remain open to tyranny, to rule by a minority of voters.
The Kansas City Star, Nov. 25
Kansas child welfare agency could put kids at risk with ill-advised contract
One of Kansas Governor-elect Laura Kelly’s first major decisions will be whether to invite the secretary of the Department of Children and Families to stay on in her administration.
It won’t be an easy call.
Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel, who just completed her first year on the job, has done a lot of good things. She’s taken steps to shed her department’s cloak of secrecy. She’s ordered top-down studies of the agency and halted the practice of children spending nights in agency offices.
She’s done all this even though the agency is severely underfunded and relies on an outdated computer system that puts kids at risk.
But then her agency makes a decision like the one The Star recently disclosed. Meier-Hummel’s department awarded a Florida nonprofit a four-year contract for critical family preservation services, which aim to keep children out of foster care. The nonprofit, though, is plagued by many of the same problems that DCF has struggled with in recent years.
Among them: foster kids sleeping in offices and spending too much time unsupervised after school; foster kids spending night after night in various homes, endangering their welfare; foster kids dying of abuse and neglect.
The reaction, understandably, is one of bewilderment and frustration.
“As a state, we’re going to hire a company with the exact same headlines we’re trying to get away from?” an exasperated state Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a Merriam Democrat, asked when told of the hire. “I thought we were trying to be better.”
“Oh, brother. I’m disappointed to hear that,” said House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a Dighton Republican.
As The Star reported, Eckerd Connects will provide family preservation services in three of Kansas’ four regions. The one region that Eckerd won’t oversee is the Kansas City area.
In Florida, the problems were so severe that the state threatened to take away Eckerd’s $77 million annual contract unless it developed a corrective plan.
DCF has acknowledged that it was aware of Eckerd’s issues in Florida. But officials noted that the nonprofit wasn’t awarded a grant for foster care, but for family preservation. Eckerd already provides some services in Kansas and reportedly has been doing a good job.
DCF officials also insisted that comparing Florida foster care services with Kansas family preservation isn’t valid because they are different. “They will be serving Kansas children and families in a completely different way,” a DCF spokesman said.
That’s hardly comforting, given that we’re talking about kids under enormous stress now dealing with an agency with a lousy track record. With Meier-Hummel’s future uncertain, this decision doesn’t inspire confidence.
The Iola Register, Nov. 26
Kobach’s departure emboldens Topeka
Now that Kris Kobach is on his way out, Kansas officials have rediscovered their backbones.
Last Monday, Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced his intention to take back the authority to prosecute cases of voter fraud from that of the Secretary of State.
In 2015, both houses of the Kansas legislature voted to make Kobach the only secretary of state in the country to have the power to file criminal charges against voter fraud as well as stiffen penalties for several voting offenses from misdemeanors to felonies.
In the years since, Kobach has not been able to prove more than a few cases of voter fraud with little more than slaps on the hand as follow-up. One wonders why Schmidt has changed course weeks after Kobach lost his bid to be governor. Did Schmidt realize that voter fraud isn’t a real issue? Or perhaps he simply went along with Kobach, wary of angering a future governor. What else could account for his sudden change of conviction now that Kobach is on his way out the door?
Though he voted as a state representative to give Kobach such prosecutorial powers, Scott Schwab, incoming secretary of state, also says he’s changed his mind about the wiseness of that move and is more than happy to hand them back over to those more experienced in such matters.
Which is as it should be.
Of the almost 2 million registered voters in Kansas, only a dozen have been found to be registered improperly, mostly due to clerical errors or recent changes of address, not intentional fraud. Kobach has brushed off the defeats as inconsequential because his focus all along has been on gaining national attention as a voting fraud czar. He is a king of fear-mongering, wanting us to feel our rights as citizens are being threatened by outside forces, even though the truth is otherwise.
In 2013, a good number of legislators approved Kobach’s efforts to make voting more restrictive by requiring voters prove their U.S. citizenship. In the 2016 election, an estimated 35,000 Kansans were prevented from registering to vote because of the new law, the strictest in the nation. The law was ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Julie A. Robinson last June.
Attorney General Schmidt has agreed to appeal Judge Robinson’s ruling, which should cause Kansans to question why he still believes in spending his office’s time and our tax dollars on Kobach’s solution in search of a problem.
Schmidt could ease our consciences by not only saying that upon review the case is without merit, but also by making the break between he and Kobach’s policies crystal clear. Until then, doubts can’t help but persist as to what side of the fence Schmidt sits.