Topeka Voting rights advocates say that Kansas’ new law that requires a photo ID to cast a ballot is bad enough, but what’s worse is its requirement that to register to vote a person, must prove U.S. citizenship.
“That part is actually far more troubling,” said Ernestine Krehbiel, president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas.
The days of voter registration drives at picnics, nursing homes, grocery stores, county fairs and the Kansas State Fair may be near an end, she said.
That’s because, effective Jan. 1, 2013, state law will require voter registration applicant to provide satisfactory evidence of U.S. citizenship. The provision applies only to new voter registration applications in Kansas.
Focus on birth certificate
Currently, when registering to vote, a person signs a statement swearing or affirming that he or she is a U.S. citizen. Submitting a false voter registration application is punishable by up to 17 months in prison.
There are several ways to prove citizenship, but the most common document that will be used under the new law will be a birth certificate, which can either be presented in person at the time of registration, or a photocopy of the document that can be mailed in with the registration application.
But Krehbiel said that in this day of identity theft, people are rightly wary about sharing personal and documented information with a stranger.
“If you showed up at my booth at the fair, you would be quite foolish to allow me to photocopy your birth certificate,” she said.
In addition, she noted, getting a copy of a birth certificate costs money. A copy of a Kansas birth certificate costs $15. Some elderly people don’t have birth certificates, and many women will have to provide further documentation if they have taken their husbands’ last name.
To get a copy of a Kansas marriage certificate costs another $15.
“I think it will be particularly hard on the indigent, disabled and elderly who do not already have driver’s licenses or birth certificates sitting around their house,” Krehbiel said.
Shew gearing up
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said the proof of citizenship requirement will make voter registration more difficult.
“It’s going to require a lot more staff involvement,” Shew said.
He agreed with Krehbiel that no one will be collecting birth certificates at voter registration drives.
He said his office will try to reach out to those who submit voter registration applications and contact them somehow to educate them on how to get a birth certificate and then get that record to the county election office to finalize the registration process.
“I want to make sure for us, that we have a system that helps remove barriers,” he said.
Voter registration drives are important in Douglas County, especially at Kansas University. Shew said in a presidential year, thousands of students register to vote during registration drives.
But educating the public about the new law and helping people register to vote will cost money, Shew said. He said he is putting together a budget and proposing mailers that will cost tens of thousands of dollars.
He said he was glad the Legislature delayed the birth certificate requirement until 2013 because that would give officials time to implement the voter ID requirement and deal with a presidential election.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who pushed for the new law, said he will continue trying to get the Legislature to put the proof of citizenship requirement in the law in 2012.
Both he and Gov. Sam Brownback have said the voter ID and proof of citizenship provision are key to preventing election fraud.
“For those who are lawful citizens of Kansas, this bill will not create obstacles to casting a ballot — not at all,” Brownback said when signing the bill into law last week. “I think these are reasonable steps to protect the rights of our citizens. Protecting the integrity of elections is a core piece of a working democracy.”
Krehbiel said rules were already in place to combat election fraud and that the new law will simply make it tougher to register to vote.
“All of those registration drives will have to dry up,” Krehbiel said. “Some people are saying that is the motivation behind these laws. I don’t know.”