TOPEKA Kansas will start combing through its birth certificates within a few weeks to whittle down the list of voters with registrations on hold because they haven't complied with the state's proof-of-citizenship requirement, Secretary of State Kris Kobach said.
Kobach told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that attorneys for his office and the state Department of Health and Environment were meeting Tuesday to finish work on an agreement between the two agencies. The health department's Office of Vital Statistics maintains birth certificates on people born in Kansas.
Under the agreement, the Office of Vital Statistics will check lists of prospective voters against its records to determine whether it has birth certificates and notify the secretary of state's office when it can verify matches, Kobach said Monday. He said the checking should begin by mid-January.
The proof-of-citizenship law took effect Jan. 1, 2013, and requires new voters to produce a birth certificate, passport or other documentation when registering. More than 19,300 registrations are on hold because the voters haven't complied with the rule, and they cannot legally cast ballots until their citizenship is verified.
Kobach said when it's determined through the checking that prospective voters have Kansas birth certificates, their registrations will be deemed complete and they'll be notified by election officials.
"We're looking for every way that we can to help people complete their registrations," he said. "This will help a lot of people."
He said he doesn't know how many people whose registrations are on hold have Kansas birth certificates and how many were born in other states, registering in Kansas for the first time after moving to the state.
Kobach, a conservative Republican, championed the proof-of-citizenship law as an anti-fraud measure to keep non-citizens from voting, particularly those in the U.S. illegally. Critics argue that a small amount of reports of non-citizens potentially voting doesn't justify putting thousands of citizens' ability to vote in limbo.
"It's an effort by a small minority that wants to repress voter participation," state Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, said during an interview earlier this month. "It's disappointing and frustrating."
The proof-of-citizenship law and voter registrations on hold are likely to be major issues as Kobach seeks a second, four-year term in 2014.
When Democratic challenger and former state Sen. Jean Schodorf of Wichita launched her campaign in late October, she said the state needed to be using the Office of Vital Statistics records to "verify birth certificates instantaneously." She added that there was no reason for two state agencies with offices in nearby Topeka buildings to not be cooperating with each other.
Kobach said his office and the health department have been working on an agreement for months and before Schodorf launched her campaign.
He said the two agencies need an agreement because of "the interplay of multiple laws" that restrict the disclosure of information in birth certificates. For example, one law says a person must have "a direct interest" in a birth certificate to review it, and the information must be "necessary for the determination of personal or property rights."