Campuses to offer voter registration training

? The League of Women Voters of Kansas will team up with universities across the state next semester to offer students training courses in how to register to vote.

The program, “Your Right to Vote: Kansas Campus Initiative,” is part of an effort to make students aware of the state’s strict voting laws that require all new voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship to register.

The program consists of short instruction, along with a video produced by KTWU-TV, the PBS affiliate based at Washburn University in Topeka.

“It can be used for college level sociology, history, and political science classes,” said the League’s co-president Marge Ahrens. “Professors from any Kansas college, university, community college or vocational technical school may request the teaching materials to use as part of their scheduled coursework. Some high school civics teachers may choose to use the video for preparing their seniors to register to vote as well.”

Professors in the Kansas University Political Science Department said they have no immediate plans to use the material.

Among the first to teach the program are professors at Washburn University, Wichita State, Emporia State and Fort Hays State, the League said.

The proof of citizenship law, which is currently under challenge in both state and federal courts, took effect on Jan. 1, 2013. It was passed at the urging of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, who said it would prevent non-U.S. citizens from voting in Kansas elections.

Under that law, new voters who apply to register but fail to provide the required citizenship proof have their applications placed “in suspense,” meaning they cannot vote until they complete their applications.

According to records obtained by the Journal-World during the last election cycle, there were 23,774 applications being held in suspense due to the proof of citizenship requirement. That represented roughly 15 percent of all the people who had attempted to register since the new law took effect.

Voters who were already registered when the law took effect were not required to re-register or show proof of citizenship. As a result, the law tended to affect young voters more than other age groups because they made up the bulk of the new registrants.

As of September, according to the League of Women Voters, 40 percent of the registrations being held in suspense were for people under the age of 30.

Since then, the secretary of state’s office has implemented a new regulation directing county election officers to cancel registration applications if they have not been completed after 90 days.