Voter advocacy group trying to contact people whose voter registrations aren’t completed

With approximately 20,000 Kansans whose voter registrations are hung up due to lack of proof of citizenship, League of Women Voters chapters throughout the state are trying to contact those people to get them to complete their registrations so they can vote in November.

“That’s part of what we do,” said Cille King, president of the League of Women Voters of Lawrence-Douglas County. “We try to make them understand what they need to do,” King said.

But, she added, “It is really slow going.”

Most people they try to contact do not answer their telephones nor return messages, and emails are almost never answered, she said.

“It takes a lot to get them off that list,” she said.

National battle over voter registration

Kansas is at the center of a national battle over a requirement that would-be voters prove U.S. citizenship.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, has spearheaded the proof-of-citizenship requirement, saying it is needed to prevent illegal immigrants from voting.

Critics of the requirement argue that illegal immigrants aren’t going to the polls and the proof requirement is a smokescreen to suppress voting, especially among Democratic constituencies, such as minorities.

There are more than 20,000 people in Kansas, including more than 640 in Douglas County, who are on a suspense list because their voter registrations are incomplete due to lack of proof of citizenship.

Lawrence woman contacted

Marci Nielsen

One of those who recently found out from the League of Women Voters that she was on that list was Marci Nielsen, a former high-ranking official in state government and Kansas University.

As it turned out, Nielsen’s voter registration situation in Douglas County was even more complicated than providing proof of citizenship but it was cleared up last week by county officials and now she is registered to vote.

Still, the ordeal prompted Nielsen, who commutes between her job with a health care group in Washington, D.C., and her home in Lawrence, to wonder about the obstacles some Kansans face to exercise their right to vote.

“I’m concerned about the people who don’t know they are on this list and may not easily locate their birth certificate or passport,” to prove citizenship, said Nielsen, who is a registered Democrat.

In response to inquiries from the Lawrence Journal-World, Kobach looked at Nielsen’s case and said that her placement on the list was caused by several things, including what appeared to be a typo in the birth year that she filled out on a registration form in 2008, and then in 2012, where there was a change in her last name and she failed to fill in an oval regarding citizenship.

“Ms. Nielsen’s situation was a very unusual and complicated one, caused mainly by her own actions,” Kobach said.

Nielsen said, “Any woman who ever married and changed their name would disagree.” And, she said the proof of citizenship requirement was onerous and insulting.

“I have two thoughts about this. The first is, I served in the U.S. military and the Peace Corps. I have worked for the federal government and state government. I take very seriously my right to vote, and so I would be prevented from voting and have to prove that I was a citizen?

“It is offensive to me as someone who is empowered as I am. What about the person who has three jobs and doesn’t get the phone call from the League of Women Voters? Their fundamental right to vote has been taken from them, and they may not even know,” she said.

Kobach says compliance is easy

Kobach has argued that it is not that difficult to provide proof of citizenship to register to vote.

“Another important distinction (from Nielsen’s situation) is that registrants who are on the incomplete list for failure to provide proof of citizenship get two contacts from the county election officer reminding them to complete their application — one by mail, the other by telephone. Their situation is a simple one, and they get multiple notices from the county,” he said.

King, the president of the local League of Women Voters, disagreed that compliance is easy, saying many people can’t deal with another requirement that they must meet in order to vote.

“Some people are so busy just trying to provide a living for themselves and their family, and that one more thing they have to do is just too much. And some people, it is just apathy and they think it just doesn’t matter,” King said.

In addition to the League of Women Voters’ ongoing effort to contact people on the suspense list, the Douglas County election office sends out postcards monthly to people who are on the list, telling them they need to provide their proof of citizenship.

Dolores Furtado, president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, said different chapters of the organization are using various methods to help local election commissioners reach people whose registrations aren’t complete.

The organization is fighting in federal court a move by Kobach to have the proof of citizenship requirement be part of the federal voter registration form in Kansas. “We consider it a barrier,” Furtado said.