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Voters turned away




In the April 2 city and school board election, there were 45 people who couldn't go to the polls in Ellis County.

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In the April 2 city and school board election, there were 45 people who couldn't go to the polls in Ellis County.

Part of a voter registration law took effect this year -- proof of U.S. citizenship for first-time Kansas voters -- and they did not complete the registration process to become eligible to vote.

The last of the three parts of the Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) Act, which was drafted by the office of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, took effect Jan. 1. It requires proof of U.S. citizenship for those who register to vote for the first time in the state. If a person attempting to register to vote doesn't provide a citizenship document upon completion of the application, that person must submit proof to the county election office.

The April 2 election was the first test for the county under the new law. Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus originally said there were 57 people who failed to provide proof of U.S. citizenship while attempting to register. The clerk's office attempted to locate each person numerous times. By the registration deadline, 11 of the 57 provided needed documentation; another was a felon and was ineligible to register, leaving 45 who did not provide documentation.

"I've been very concerned that it is a stumbling block because we cannot fully register these people until we get this documentation with the new U.S. citizenship law," Maskus said.

The next election in the county is May 14, with a 0.5-percent county sales tax to be decided by voters. Deadline for voter registration for that election is Tuesday.

Among documents acceptable for newly registered Kansas voters are a birth certificate, a U.S. passport (can be expired) or U.S. hospital record of birth.

"The ID most of us carry is our driver's licenses," Maskus said. "But most of us don't carry this type of documentation with you. It's a little more challenging."

Kobach made voter fraud an integral part of his campaign for secretary of state. However, according to an editorial in the Wichita Eagle on July 28, 2010, there is little evidence to support that claim. In the editorial, it said "there had been only seven cases of alleged fraud referred to local, state or federal authorities in five years, and only one of those cases was prosecuted."

The editorial went on to quote Chris Biggs, at that time the secretary of state, as saying "voter fraud is not a major problem in this state."

In a meeting in Wichita last year to discuss the new voter laws, the Wichita Eagle reported Kobach faced hostile questioning. He denied voter suppression was his goal.

"If these laws suppress voters, I would not be for it," Kobach said in the May 31, 2012, issue of the Eagle.

Kobach's office did not return a message Friday from The Hays Daily News seeking comment.

Eber Phelps, who represented Ellis County in the Kansas Legislature for 16 years until he lost his re-election bid in November, said the citizenship requirement in the law "was the contention of our secretary of state that undocumented immigrants were trying to vote."

"Nobody can really produce any evidence of that happening, as far as somebody being here illegally, and trying to vote," Phelps said.

Of the 57 people who ran into registration problems in Ellis County, the surnames were vastly similar.

"They are very common German names," Maskus said. "Common names we have around here."

Many of those who had registration problems were 18-year-olds seeking to vote for the first time, Maskus said.

"I do know that some of these, they are young kids," she said. "Kids that just turned 18 and are excited to be able to vote."

Sue Boldra, the Republican challenger who defeated Phelps to represent the 111th District, which includes Ellis County, said it was a "concern" and she was "saddened" about the problems with voter registration, but added it was an education problem.

"They need to know what they need in order to (register). Perhaps this will be the education they needed," she said. "I guess it's a hard lesson, but that is a lesson."

Boldra said she supports the voter registration requirements for first-time voters in the state.

"So many people say we ought to open up the rolls, let people vote," Boldra said. "But voting is a citizenship right. I believe in America you need to prove your citizenship to participate in some of those types of things. I think voting is one of them. It is a right and a privilege."