Saturday, July 20, 2013

Problem of voter registrations in `suspense’ likely to continue

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — A problem in the proof-of-citizenship law that has left the voter registrations of nearly 13,000 Kansans in limbo is likely to continue.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said the solution is for would-be voters to provide adequate documentation of citizenship, and a Lawrence legislator said the issue may end up in court if the dispute is not resolved before local elections this fall.

Kobach had said he would seek a permanent rule change to allow those whose citizenship documents had not reached election officials to cast provisional ballots. This week Kobach said he might not seek that change after all.

"We are re-assessing whether to pursue a permanent regulation," Kobach said.

Kobach had proposed a temporary rule change as a lead up to a permanent rule change.

But on Monday, the State Board of Rules and Regulation rejected the temporary change.

State Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, led the opposition to the rule change, saying most people don't understand what a provisional ballot is, and therefore would not take the measures needed to ensure that their votes counted.

The dispute is over a law requiring that new voter registrations have proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport.

But since the law took effect Jan. 1, 12,904 voter registration documents filed with the Kansas Division of Vehicles are being held up until proof of citizenship documents are provided. Local election officials say a number of people contacted to provide proof of citizenship say they presented that proof at the driver's license office.

Kobach's proposed temporary rule would have allowed those people whose registrations were in "suspense" to cast a provisional ballot. Their vote, however, would not count unless they provided election officials with proof of citizenship before the vote was canvassed, which occurs four business days after an election.

Dolores Furtado, president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, said the league opposed Kobach's plan. "It doesn't fix the problem, it just disguises it," Furtado said.

She added, "Voters must be better informed about what a provisional ballot means. If the correction is not provided, the vote is not counted, and if the individuals are not informed, you don't correct the problem."

Kobach said allowing a provisional ballot "was to give voters an extra opportunity to bring in any citizenship documents between Election day and the day of county canvass."

But he said if he doesn't pursue that proposed rule change again, he remained confident those who want to vote will provide the necessary documentation.

He said people whose registrations are in "suspense" are being contacted at least twice to send in their documents.

Of the 12,904 in suspense, 7,361 are unaffiliated, 2,992 are Republican, 2,341 are Democratic and 210 are Libertarian, according to the Secretary of State's office.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said the issue may wind up in litigation because there are several local elections across the state this fall.

"Unless these problems get resolved, someone may have to go to court to be able to exercise their right to vote," Davis said.

State Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence, said he recently emphasized to a group of high school students participating in the Dole Institute's Youth Civic Leadership program, that voting was a fundamental right. Now, he said, "Twelve thousand Kansans who may not get to vote, is a lot of people."