Kobach seeks to purge ‘suspense’ voter list

? Topeka — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is proposing a new regulation that would allow his office to purge more than 30,000 incomplete voter registration applications, most of which are being held in suspense because the voters have not yet provided proof of U.S. citizenship.

A public hearing on the proposed change is scheduled for Sept. 2 in Topeka.

The proposed change deals with a law passed in 2011 that requires new voters in Kansas to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register. The law took effect in 2013, and it applied for the first time in state and federal elections during last year’s mid-term elections.

In a phone interview Saturday, Kobach said the proposal is meant to save county election officials time and expense. He said there are people on the list who tried to register as far back as 2013, many of whom have since moved, but counties are told they need to continue sending reminders to those voters to submit their citizenship documents.

“Right now (the counties) can’t take them off that way,” Kobach said. “The way the regulations are structured now, they’re still sending (reminders) out to everybody on the list.”

Under the proposed change, voters would have 90 days after they file their applications to register to provide the required citizenship documents — either a birth certificate, U.S. passport, naturalization document or other document allowed under the law. After that, the application would be rejected and the voter would have to submit a new application in order to register.

That’s one of two changes Kobach’s office is proposing. A second change would provide guidance to state and local election officers about how to assess citizenship and identification documents for people whose names have changed because of marriage, divorce, change of gender or other reasons.

The 90-day requirement would be a significant change because under current practice, voters can submit the required documents — even by emailing a cellphone photo of them to their county election office — right up to Election Day, regardless of when they originally applied to register.

Kobach said the proposed 90 days is more generous than what’s offered by either of the other two states that have similar proof-of-citizenship laws, Arizona and Georgia, which give applicants only 30-45 days to complete their registrations.

Marge Ahrens, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, said that organization opposes the proof-of-citizenship law in concept, and it plans to oppose the proposed change.

“First of all, we do see proof of citizenship as a barrier to poor persons being able to vote,” she said. “The second thing is, we see the right to vote as very sacred, and it belongs to all citizens, and we stand for encouraging those citizens to vote. That’s what the league is all about, and that’s what it has been about since 1920.”

Ahrens said she obtained a recent list that shows 34,986 voter applications currently being held in suspense. Of those, she said, 87 percent, or slightly more than 30,000, are being held because of the proof of citizenship law.

The remainder are incomplete for other reasons, such as being illegible or missing applicants’ signatures.

The proof-of-citizenship law was enacted in 2011 at the urging of Kobach, a Republican who had just been elected after running on a strong anti-illegal immigration platform. But it did not take effect until January 2013. The first state and national elections held in Kansas under the new law were last year’s mid-term elections for Congress, governor, other statewide elected offices and the Kansas House of Representatives.

An analysis by the Journal-World showed that a few weeks before the November election, more than 23,000 would-be voters’ applications were being held “in suspense” because of the proof-of-citizenship requirement.

That analysis also showed the law had a disproportionate impact on young voters, and voters who lived in low-income neighborhoods with large African-American populations. It also showed that unaffiliated voters made up the largest group of voters in suspense, while would-be Republican voters made up a disproportionately small share of the group.

Kobach has argued the law ensures that only those people who are legally entitled to vote can cast ballots, and that it prevents people who are not U.S. citizens from voting.

Another new law enacted this year gives Kobach’s office authority to prosecute election crimes. He has said he intends to begin such prosecutions next month.

Critics have argued instances of actual voter fraud are extremely rare in Kansas and do not justify blocking tens of thousands of registration applications.