Kansas Proof-of-Citizenship Fight Continues as State Seeks to Manage “Suspense List”



[Image courtesy of all-flags-world]

The State of Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship law has been a constant source of controversy since it was enacted in 2011, in part because it has resulted in a “suspense list” of more than 30,000 voters statewide who have registered to vote but yet to show documentary proof of citizenship. The controversy is about to kick up another notch as Secretary of State Kobach seeks to adopt new regulations that would allow the state to trim the list of people who have not responded. The Lawrence Journal-World has more:

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is proposing a new regulation that would allow his office to purge more than 30,000 incomplete voter registration applications, most of which are being held in suspense because the voters have not yet provided proof of U.S. citizenship.

A public hearing on the proposed change is scheduled for Sept. 2 in Topeka.

The proposed change deals with a law passed in 2011 that requires new voters in Kansas to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register. The law took effect in 2013, and it applied for the first time in state and federal elections during last year’s mid-term elections.

Kobach argues that the suspense list has become so bloated that his proposal is just an effort to save county officials time and effort in managing suspended applicants:

In a phone interview Saturday, Kobach said the proposal is meant to save county election officials time and expense. He said there are people on the list who tried to register as far back as 2013, many of whom have since moved, but counties are told they need to continue sending reminders to those voters to submit their citizenship documents.

“Right now (the counties) can’t take them off that way,” Kobach said. “The way the regulations are structured now, they’re still sending (reminders) out to everybody on the list.”

Under the proposed change, voters would have 90 days after they file their applications to register to provide the required citizenship documents — either a birth certificate, U.S. passport, naturalization document or other document allowed under the law. After that, the application would be rejected and the voter would have to submit a new application in order to register.

But opponents of the law (and the new regulation) claim that the state is preparing to make it even harder to vote by purging the suspense list:

Marge Ahrens, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, said that organization opposes the proof-of-citizenship law in concept, and it plans to oppose the proposed change.

“First of all, we do see proof of citizenship as a barrier to poor persons being able to vote,” she said. “The second thing is, we see the right to vote as very sacred, and it belongs to all citizens, and we stand for encouraging those citizens to vote. That’s what the league is all about, and that’s what it has been about since 1920.”

Ahrens said she obtained a recent list that shows 34,986 voter applications currently being held in suspense. Of those, she said, 87 percent, or slightly more than 30,000, are being held because of the proof of citizenship law.

The remainder are incomplete for other reasons, such as being illegible or missing applicants’ signatures…

An analysis by the Journal-World showed that a few weeks before the November election, more than 23,000 would-be voters’ applications were being held “in suspense” because of the proof-of-citizenship requirement.

That analysis also showed the law had a disproportionate impact on young voters, and voters who lived in low-income neighborhoods with large African-American populations. It also showed that unaffiliated voters made up the largest group of voters in suspense, while would-be Republican voters made up a disproportionately small share of the group.

Kobach also seeks a second change that would allow voters who have already provided proof of citizenship and moved the opportunity to update their registrations more easily. According to the Wichita Eagle, the SoS said “Obviously, it doesn’t make sense if a person’s shown their proof of citizenship in Kansas after 2013, and they move counties, that they have to show their proof of citizenship again.”

Aside from the ongoing dispute over proof-of-citizenship, there is also anticipation/dread in Kansas over new prosecutorial powers for the SoS over election crimes – powers which Kobach lobbied the Legislature to obtain, went into effect this year and the Journal-World says Kobach “intends to begin such prosecutions next month.”

In short, Kansas is at the leading edge of attempts nationally to use election laws to prevent and prosecute voting by ineligible individuals. Those laws are still under challenge (for example, proof-of-citizenship is not allowed in federal elections after the Supreme Court declined to hear the state’s appeal earlier this year) and these moves likely mean the controversy will continue to rage on as the state enters the 2016 election year.

It’s punny, yes, but true that Kansas will be keeping lots of people in suspense for the foreseeable future.

Stay tuned …

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