Douglas County election officials are reaching out to more than 600 would-be voters whose registrations are being held “in suspense” because they have not yet provided necessary documents to prove they are U.S. citizens.
County Clerk Jamie Shew said Thursday that those voters have until Aug. 4 to provide those documents if they want to vote in the Aug. 5 primary elections for federal, state and local offices. But a small number of them – four, to be exact – may be eligible to vote in the federal primaries for U.S. House and Senate, although they will not be able to vote in state and local races.
“There has been some confusion about that,” Shew said Thursday. “Some people think they can show their proof of citizenship at the polls. But they have to file it with us before Election Day to be eligible.”
The problem with those registrations stems from a 2011 law enacted by the Kansas Legislature called the Safe and Fair Election Act, or SAFE, which was championed by Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Under that law, starting in 2012, voters had to show a valid photo ID at the polls in order to vote. And starting in 2013, people registering for the first time in their county have had to show proof of citizenship in order to register.
Documents that can be used to prove citizenship include birth certificates, U.S. passports, naturalization documents, Native American tribal IDs or a driver's license from a state that requires proof of citizenship to obtain the license, among others. A full list of qualifying documents is available on the Secretary of State's website, www.kssos.org.
Kobach and other supporters of the law say it's intended to prevent voter fraud by making sure non-citizens do not vote in Kansas elections. But critics of the law say that kind of voter fraud happens rarely, if ever, and they claim the real effect is to suppress voter turnout among low-income, elderly and ethnic minority voters who are least likely to have the kinds of documents required to prove citizenship.
In the last year, however, the issue has become even more complicated because of differences between the state and federal voter registration laws. Under a federal law known as Motor Voter, people can register at almost any government office using a federal form that does not ask for proof of citizenship.
But in Kansas, as well as Arizona, state officials have refused to recognize registrations from those federal forms because they do not meet all of the requirements under state law. In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal forms must be recognized for voters to cast ballots in federal elections, but that states have the right to require additional documents for voters to register for state and local elections.
The court also said states such as Kansas could petition the federal Election Assistance Commission to provide them with amended federal forms that contain a proof-of-citizenship section.
But the EAC so far has declined to provide Kansas with amended forms. In response, Kansas and Arizona both sued last year, seeking a federal court order compelling the commission to provide those forms.
According to Shew, only four of the Douglas County registrations in suspense were filed using the federal forms. He said those voters will be eligible to vote in primaries for the U.S. House and Senate, even if they don't provide proof of citizenship before Election Day.
The others, Shew said, will be ineligible to vote at all unless they provide the necessary forms.
As of June 1, according to Kobach's office, there were 18,071 registrations statewide that were being held in suspense due to the proof-of-citizenship requirement.
Voters in the Aug. 5 primary will select party candidates for the U.S. House and Senate, as well as governor and other statewide elected offices and the Kansas House of Representatives. In addition, Douglas County voters will select candidates for the First District seat on the Douglas County Commission, as well as various township clerk offices.
The general election will be Nov. 4.