The new law that requires some Kansans to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote has consistently been portrayed as applying only to people who are registering in Kansas for the first time.
However, as the case of Donna Bell outlined in Monday’s Journal-World illustrates, many other people who have lived, and probably voted, in Kansas are among those whose registrations are being held “in suspense” until they jump through the additional proof-of-citizenship hoop.
Bell previously lived and voted in Douglas County, but moved to Johnson County for a couple of years. When she returned to Lawrence she took the arguably responsible action of canceling her voter registration in Johnson County. Because she was no longer a registered voter in Kansas, when she sought to register in Douglas County, she was treated like a new Kansas voter.
According to Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew, a large number of the estimated 17,700 people whose registrations are in suspense are in a similar situation. That’s because the state Division of Vehicles has implemented only the first phase of the “Real ID” program that was supposed to create a seamless system to collect citizenship data when people obtain drivers licenses.
As Shew explained it, the first phase is for people who have out-of-state drivers licenses and must confirm their citizenship status to obtain a Kansas license. The Division of Vehicles currently is collecting citizenship data on those people and forwarding it to the Kansas Secretary of State.
The second phase, which hasn’t been implemented, applies to people who are renewing a Kansas drivers license. Those people only have to present their current licenses. No citizenship verification is required. So, if for any reason, their voter registration has been canceled — because they actively took that step or moved within the state without transferring their registration — they, like Bell, will be treated as new Kansas voters. However, because they aren’t asked for citizenship verification when they renew their Kansas drivers license, their applications are among the thousands on hold in the Secretary of State’s Office.
Ironically, Bell’s diligence in canceling her registration actually worked against her. If she had waited until she had a new address in Lawrence and simply transferred her registration, she could have avoided this hassle. But who knew?
The Kansas voter registration law currently is facing a legal challenge, but whether or not it is found to be constitutional, it’s hard to believe that legislators who passed it intended for it to work — or not work — as it currently does. This is not the “seamless” system that legislators were promised. It is their responsibility to revisit this law and its implementation to fix the problems that are creating obstacles for thousands of qualified Kansas voters.