Voting rights advocates fear problems with proof of citizenship requirement will mean many lost votes; board rejects Kobach modification
Topeka — A state board today rejected changes to the Kansas law requiring proof of citizenship for newly registered voters as voting rights advocates voiced concerns that thousands of Kansans will be unable to vote because of implementation snags with the new law.
"We are putting up a barrier to voting that doesn't need to be there," said Maryanna Quilty, president of the League of Women Voters of Shawnee County.
The proof-of-citizenship law requires people who register to vote in the state for the first time to provide a birth certificate, passport or other document.
But since it went into effect Jan. 1, more than 12,000 people who have attempted to register to vote are in "suspense," meaning they are not yet qualified to vote.
Officials said the registrations in question are people who are coming in to the Division of Vehicles to renew their license, or change their address or name on their license and decided to register to vote at the same time.
Jeannine Koranda, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Revenue, which oversees the Division of Vehicles said, "In Kansas, we require proof of lawful presence for people getting their driver's license for the first time such as a teenager or someone moving in from out of state.
"To renew a license, you do not need to prove lawful presence. So it is possible for someone to come in and do something with their license and not prove lawful presence, but with every driver's license transaction we are required by Federal law to ask if people want to register to vote. If they do not have proof of citizenship documents the registration is still sent to the SOS's (Secretary of State) office where it goes into suspension until those documents are provided. The SOS's office or the election clerk sends a letter to those voters whose registrations are in suspense letting them know they need to provide additional documents."
Secretary of State Kris Kobach who pushed for the law sought an emergency temporary change.
But that was rejected by the State Rules and Regulation Board. A member of that board said Kobach's proposed fix was "disingenuous at best."
Kobach proposed allowing those in "suspense" to be able to cast a provisional ballot. But their vote would only count if they provided proof of citizenship documents before the votes were canvassed, usually a week after an election.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brad Bryant urged the board to pass the measure, noting there are several special elections scheduled for September and October
But state Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, said most people don't understand what a provisional ballot is, and that the percentage of people who would return to prove their citizenship would probably be extremely low.
"I don't believe a large percentage of the population knows what casting a provisional ballot means," Schmidt said.
"They believe it is going to count. Sadly for these 12,000 plus individuals it will not count unless they take further action and I think that is disingenuous at best," she said.