ACLU: Two-thirds of new Kansas voter registrations on hold

AP News
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Posted: Apr 25, 2016 5:06 PM

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Voting rolls in Kansas are in "chaos" because of the state's proof-of-citizenship requirements, the American Civil Liberties Union has argued in a court document, noting that about two-thirds of new voter registration applications submitted during a three-week period in February are on hold.

Kansas is fending off multiple legal challenges from voting rights activists, and just months before the state's August primary, the status of the "dual registration" system remains unclear. Federal judges in separate voter-registration lawsuits unfolding in Kansas and Washington, D.C., could rule at any time. There's also greater urgency because registrations typically surge during an election year.

Kansas is one of four states, along with Georgia, Alabama and Arizona, to require documentary proof of citizenship — such as a birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers — to register to vote. Under Kansas' challenged system, voters who registered using a federal form, which hadn't required proof of U.S. citizenship, could only vote in federal races and not in state or local races. Kansas says it will keep the dual voting system in place for upcoming elections if the courts allow its residents to register to vote either with a federal form or at motor vehicle offices without providing proof of citizenship.

The following things were revealed in various court filings last week:

— Of the more than 22,000 submitted voter registration applications submitted between Feb. 1 and Feb. 21, only 7,444 were completed with proof of citizenship, State Elections Director Bryan Caskey said. That meant the majority of those registrants were put on the suspense list, and their voting registrations will be purged after 90 days unless proper documents are submitted.

— Younger citizens were affected the most. Although those between the ages of 18 and 29 comprise only 14.9 percent of registered Kansas voters, that age group makes up more than 58 percent of applicants who registered at motor vehicle offices and are on the suspense list.

— Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach contends that since the provisions went into effect Jan. 1, 2013, a total of 244,699 people completed their registrations, accounting for about 94 percent of all applicants.

Since the beginning of the year, the state's voter registration system has been at the forefront of legal challenges.

On Jan. 15, a Shawnee County District Court judge ruled Kobach has no authority to bar voters who use a federal form to register from casting ballots in local and state elections. The judge also said the right to vote is not tied to the method of registration.

Two weeks later, the new executive director of the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission unilaterally — and without approval of the commission — required citizenship documentation on the federal registration form for voters in Kansas, Georgia and Alabama. Kobach has argued the dual voting system is no longer needed and asked a state court to reconsider its earlier ruling as moot. The judge has yet to rule on that request.

The League of Women Voters, joined by other voting rights groups, filed a lawsuit Feb. 12 against EAC head Brian Newby and the EAC, contending his action will hurt voter registration drives and deprive eligible voters of the right to vote in the presidential primary elections. A ruling is pending in federal court in Washington over a requested temporary order to block the changes for the three states.

The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit Feb. 18 seeking class-action status in Kansas City, Kansas, arguing that Kansas residents trying to register to vote at motor vehicle offices are being forced to provide documentary proof of citizenship in violation of federal law. The ACLU is seeking a temporary court order that would allow people to register at motor vehicle offices without providing the citizenship paperwork, and a decision is expected soon.

One thing seems almost certain: All rulings will likely be appealed.