Topeka People who try to register to vote for the first time using the state of Kansas' online system may be told initially that their registrations are incomplete, even if they submitted all the required documents, including proof of citizenship.
That's what happened to Lawrence resident Grace Morgan, 18, who said she used the online registration system and promptly received a letter from the Douglas County Clerk's office saying her registration was still incomplete.
Morgan wasn't immediately available for comment Monday. But her case is notable because she is the daughter of Scott Morgan, a Lawrence Republican who is challenging Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach for re-election in the upcoming Aug. 5 primary.
Kobach is the one who personally championed a new law, passed in 2011, requiring voters to show proof of citizenship when they register. And Scott Morgan has made that a central issue in his campaign to unseat Kobach. He posted comments about the incident on his Facebook page over the weekend.
"It seems like the very group that is so hard to get to vote is also the very group the system is almost designed to turn off," Scott Morgan said during a phone interview Monday. "A lot of people would get that letter and say, 'whatever.' I guess we have a fundamentally different view on where the burden should like — on the individual to prove they're a citizen, or on the state to prove they're not."
But Kobach defended the law. "It was designed to solve the problem of numerous aliens registering to vote in Kansas," he said Monday.
During a recent federal trial involving the Kansas law, Kobach said testimony was offered showing that between 2007 and 2009, as many as 20 non-citizens were registered to vote in Kansas. He also said that during a 1997 ballot election involving a corporate hog farm in Seward County, as many as 50 non-citizens who were actually residents of Guymon, Okla., falsely registered so they could vote in Kansas.
Although the content of the online form was designed by the Secretary of State's office, the website itself is maintained by the Kansas Department of Revenue, in part because the form requires cross-checking drivers license information that is already stored on Department of Revenue databases.
Officials in the election division of the Secretary of State's office said problems like the one Grace Morgan encountered happen because people have to upload photos or scanned images of their citizenship documents when they submit their application online, and it takes longer to process the graphic files than the simple text entered into the form.
"The data gets transferred faster than the document upload," said Bryan Caskey, assistant state elections director in the Secretary of State's office. "The county got the record that she submitted an application; then the image arrives a couple days later. So the county, as soon as they get an application without image, sends out letter" saying the application is incomplete.
Brad Bryant, who heads the elections division, said such problems usually get resolved on their own in a matter of days. But he said anyone who encounters such a problem should contact his county election officer to find out what is needed to clear up the problem.
Jeannine Koranda, spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue, said that agency has not received many reports or complaints about problems with the system. She said the most common problem involves people who submit the wrong document for proof of citizenship.
"That's just a squirrelly system," Scott Morgan said. "It seems backwards in many ways. That's the state's problem, not the county clerks'."
But Kobach disagreed, saying, "The only remarkable aspect of this story is that a human being — the county clerk — did his job faster than a computer server did its job."
"Putting a process online makes it easy, but that doesn't make it instantaneous," Kobach said.
The proof-of-citizenship requirement went into effect Jan. 1, 2013, and was in force during last year's municipal and school board elections. But this year marks the first state and federal elections held in Kansas under the new law.
According to the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, Kansas is one of 22 states implementing new voter restrictions since the 2010 elections. And it's one of seven states where those restrictions are being challenged in court.
In Kansas, people registering for the first time in their county must show valid proof of citizenship when they register. That can include an official birth certificate, U.S. passport, naturalization papers, Native American tribal membership documents, or other documents listed in the state law.
A complete list is available on the Secretary of State's website, www.kssos.org.
The rule, however, applies only to people using the state voter registration form. People can use a federal form, which does not require proof of citizenship, but those people will only be allowed to vote in federal elections for the U.S. House and Senate.