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Kansas board rejects voter registration fix

Published on -7/16/2013, 3:09 PM

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A state regulatory board on Tuesday rejected Secretary of State Kris Kobach's proposal to fix allow some 12,000 residents in a suspended state of voter registration to participate in upcoming elections.

The change would have allowed residents who have yet to provide proof of citizenship to county election officials to cast provisional ballots in upcoming special elections. Residents would be required to show proof of citizenship before the election was certified.

Kansas enacted a law in 2011 requiring residents to provide proof of citizenship when registering to vote starting Jan. 1, 2013. A new state computer system that was supposed to provide that verification to the secretary of state's office hasn't started sending the information to election officials.

Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican and member of the state Rules and Regulations Board, said temporary fix would not solve the problem and that those casting provisional ballots would have the added burden of proving citizenship before the elections were certified for their votes to count.

"I don't believe a large percentage of the population knows what casting a provisional ballot means," Schmidt said. "They believe it is going to count. Sadly for these 12,000 plus individuals it will not count unless they take further action, and I think that is disingenuous at best."

Provisional ballots are allowed under Kansas law when election officials detect an error, such as a mistake in a voter's address, voting in a wrong precinct or failing to show valid photo identification. Those errors can be corrected up until county elections are certified and sent to the secretary of state.

Brad Bryant, deputy assistant secretary of state, said the temporary regulation was being sought so that those whose registrations are in suspense could participate in upcoming special elections scheduled locally statewide in the coming weeks. A permanent rule change, similar to the request made Tuesday, is scheduled to be discussed by the rules board during September when public comment will be taken.

The proof of citizenship requirement was part of changes to the Kansas elections laws approved in 2011. Kobach sought the changes to reduce the instances of voter fraud in the state and to make elections more secure.

Maryanna Quilty, president of the Shawnee County chapter of the League of Women Voters, said after the meeting that the problem with the registration laws was more evidence that it should be "rolled back."

"We are putting up a barrier to voting that doesn't need to be there," Quilty said.

Kobach tried during the 2012 legislative session to accelerate the date for showing proof of citizenship but was rebuked by legislators. The secretary of state envisioned a seamless system linking driver's licenses registration data, which includes citizenship information, with voter registration applications.

Bryant said if the data isn't provided from the Division of Vehicles to the secretary of state that residents still could take proof of citizenship to county election officers to complete their registration process and be eligible to vote. Acceptable proof would be a birth certificate or valid U.S. passport.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue said the issue wasn't the agency's computer system but rather people who come in for a driver's license without proper documents.

Jeannine Koranda said the issue occurs when residents come in to renew a license, change their address or name and register to vote at the same time. Federal law requires the state to ask residents if they wish to register to vote, she said, but those registrations are only valid with proof of citizenship.

Those lacking proper documents are still sent to the secretary of state, Koranda said, but notices must be sent to residents letting them know they need to provide additional proof.

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