Monday, June 24, 2013

Problems arise with requiring proof of citizenship to vote

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, Kan. — Problems in Kansas' requirement for new voters to prove citizenship have surfaced just six months after the law took effect.

Since Jan. 1, 11,101 people who have attempted to register to vote are in "suspense," meaning they are not yet qualified to vote, because of lack of proof of citizenship, according to the Kansas Secretary of State's office. During that same time period, 20,780 voters have been added to the rolls, which means approximately one of three voter registration applications have not been finalized.

An analysis of the 370 in suspense in Douglas County shows that 339 are because of lack of citizenship documentation, according to Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew. Of those 370 in suspense, 310 came from registrations at the state's Division of Motor Vehicles, where people getting driver's licenses often register to vote.

Shew said that when people show proof of U.S. citizenship to get a driver's license at the Division of Motor Vehicles, the citizenship documentation is not making it to election officials for voter registration purposes.

The cause of that problem is unclear.

Under the DMV's $40 million upgrade to the computer system that handles driver's licenses, the project was supposed to allow the division to store electronic copies of birth certificates and other documents proving a driver's citizenship and transfer them to election officials as needed. But that hasn't happened yet, Shew said.

Without the documents, election officials then have to send letters and contact those people to get their voter registration cleared up, Shew said.

"There are quite a few in suspense across the state, and we (in Douglas County) are no different than that," Shew said. The 370 voter registrations in suspense in Douglas County come out of approximately 1,000 applications. That is 37 percent of registrations in suspense since the new requirement took effect.

"The large number ... right now is a concern among election officers throughout the state. And that is just within a 6 month time in an off season. What does that number look like in an election season?" Shew said.

But Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said he is confident the system will soon be seamless.

"We are doing everything we can," Kobach said.

The proof of citizenship requirement drew political attention last week after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an Arizona law that requires new voters to show proof of citizenship to register to vote.

Despite the ruling, Kobach, a Republican who pushed for the Kansas law, said the Kansas law is different than the Arizona law and remains valid. Democratic leaders have requested a legal opinion from Attorney General Derek Schmidt on whether it is.

The Kansas 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.

The goal, Kobach said, was to have a system where the DMV "without any human touching a button" automatically transferred proof-of-citizenship documents to election officials at the time when a person comes in to get a driver's license. But that hasn't happened yet. Kobach said those documents are being transferred by email, but Shew said that simply is not the case.

Jeannine Koranda, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Revenues, which includes the DMV, said, "We send confirmation to the SOS's (secretary of state) office then they are to supply it to the election clerks. The SOS's office said that meets the requirements."

Kobach said regulations are being worked on that would allow people whose registration is in suspense to be able to cast a provisional ballot. But that ballot would not be counted unless the necessary proof-of-citizenship documents are provided to election officials prior to the canvassing of the vote after the election.

Kobach said one reason why there is a large number of those registrations in suspense may be because those people see no urgency now to provide that documentation because there is no big election on the horizon.

Louis Goseland, coordinator of the KanVote Coalition, which has been working to repeal the Kansas law, says there is nothing in the law that would allow Kobach to establish regulations to allow voters in suspense to cast a provisional ballot.

"He (Kobach) rearranges things in the (law) as a way to avoid confrontations," Goseland said.

And Shew said it is questionable if a regulation could be written to do what Kobach says he wants. The law says that to be able to cast a ballot, a person must be a qualified voter, said Shew. If they aren't registered to vote, how could they be a qualified voter, he said.

Critics of the proof of citizenship requirement say it creates obstacles to voting, especial for low-income and elderly residents because sometimes it is difficult to secure a birth certificate or other document. Kobach says the proof of citizenship requirement will prevent election fraud by ensuring that illegal immigrants don't register to vote.

Kansas has approximately 1.7 million voters, and fewer than 10 cases have been reported over the past 10 years of non-citizens voting or attempting to vote.