Issues with Kan. voter citizenship rule to linger
By JOHN HANNA
AP Political Writer
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas appears likely to be dealing for some time with a significant number of new prospective voters whose registrations remain on hold because they haven't provided proof of their U.S. citizenship, a legislative committee learned Monday.
The issue arose during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Information Technology, as it reviewed the Department of Revenue's work on a $40 million upgrade of the computer system that handles vehicle titles and registrations, as well as driver's licenses. The next, still-unscheduled phase of the project deals with driver's licenses.
Department officials told the committee that they don't have a timetable for requiring everyone who renews a driver's license to submit documents proving their citizenship. The requirement is in place for people who are getting a new Kansas license.
The federal government requires states to allow people to fill out voter registration forms at driver's license offices, and in Kansas, it's a common source of new registrations. Before the state's voter proof-of-citizenship requirement took effect in January, some legislators had assumed people renewing driver's licenses would be required in the near future to provide citizenship documents and therefore comply at the same time with the state election law.
As of Monday, 16,600 prospective Kansas voters had their registrations on hold because they haven't yet provided a birth certificate, passport or other citizenship document. They can't legally cast ballots until they do.
"It doesn't seem that there's any end in sight for this problem," said Rep. Brandon Whipple, a Wichita Democrat who serves on the technology committee.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, successfully pushed the GOP-dominated Legislature to enact the law as a way to combat potential election fraud, particularly improper voting by immigrants in the U.S. illegally. Critics predicted that the law would suppress voter registration and turnout.
Kobach did not immediately return telephone messages Monday, but he has said a pool of voters with registrations in "suspense" is a predictable result of the state allowing people to fill out registration forms while providing proper documents later. He's suggested that the state is being lenient in that regard and that many people who fill out forms in driver's licenses offices don't intend to go to the polls.
Donna Shelite, the Department of Revenue's director of vehicles, told the committee: "We will accept your application to vote. We send that to the county clerks, with them knowing that they need to follow up. The customer knows that they need to possibly give documentation."
Kansas Division of Vehicles: http://www.ksrevenue.org/vehicle.html