The Suspense is Killing Me: Document Release Helps Reduce Kansas Proof-of-Citizenship Backlog

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[Image courtesy of 2esoe1011]

The State of Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship law, which has generated controversy and led to suggestions that the state would set up a two-track registration system, is finally seeing some movement on the implementation side. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the state Department of Revenue is finally able to share documents which may help some voters escape the “suspense” list:

Election officials reported Monday they are using a recent release of documents to whittle down the number of registrations in what is called “suspense.”

The Kansas Department of Revenue recently sent to the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office approximately 6,100 Division of Motor Vehicle records that contained citizenship documents, according to a memo from the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office.

“These records should reduce the number of ‘suspense’ records due to lack of proof of citizenship,” the memo stated.

The Secretary of State’s Office did not have information on how many incomplete voter registrations these documents cleared up, but Douglas County received its batch of 438 records Monday afternoon. It processed 50 of the records and was able to finalize the registrations of 16 people, according to Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew.

The problem, as Johnson County’s Brian Newby explained a while back, is that the state’s ability to process proof of citizenship lags behind the requirement that voters provide it. As a result, some Kansas voters haven’t made it onto the rolls:

A new law took effect Jan. 1 that requires people who are registering to vote to show proof of U.S. citizenship such as a birth certificate.

Supporters of the law, including Secretary of State Kris Kobach, minimized the hurdle this would produce, but 18,054 voter registrations are incomplete because of the lack of proof of citizenship.

Some have alleged that people who have applied for driver’s licenses and voter registration have fully complied with the legal requirement for both but have been thwarted by a faulty computer system.

Now, however, the state agency with access to those documents is finally making some of them available to election officials:

Revenue Department spokeswoman Jeannine Koranda said the process of moving thousands of documents to the secretary of state’s office was worked out recently with the department’s private contractor MorphoTrust.

“As you know, in 2008, everyone getting a new Kansas driver’s license has been required to show proof of legal presence such as a birth certificate, passport or green card. In 2011, the department began scanning those documents,” Koranda said in an email.

“The department isn’t pulling out information for people who registered to vote specifically, we actually don’t keep records of who registered to vote in our offices. We are working with MorphoTrust to go through our historic data, all the records collected since 2011, and convert it into a readable format that can then be sent securely to the Secretary of State’s office.

“We are not sending over personal information, simply the information already sent over for voter registration purposes and verifying what document we captured. The Secretary of State’s office can then use the information to help complete voter registrations,” Koranda said.

Here’s hoping that the new program is successful; whether or not you agree with proof of citizenship, it is truly unfortunate for voters – and the election officials who serve them – when individuals who have done everything required of them are still kept in “suspense.” I’ll be curious to see how well these documents help registrants escape the suspense list and make it onto the rolls.

This is also an important reminder of the key role of implementation in election policy; legislators at every level need to remember that simply enacting a law is rarely enough – especially when the law requires state and local agencies to share data when they rarely (or never) have before.

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