Douglas County clerk announces plan for handling suspense voter list

A new state regulation takes effect Friday requiring county election officers to cancel incomplete voter registration applications that have been lingering for more than 90 days. But Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said he won’t start purging the voting list just yet.

Instead, Shew said Thursday, he will start a new 90-day clock, giving the roughly 1,400 would-be voters in Douglas County that much additional time to complete their registrations.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Kansas City, Kan., late Thursday declined to grant a temporary restraining order to block the new rule from taking effect Friday. According to attorneys involved in the case, Judge Carlos Murguia said plaintiffs in the case failed to show they would suffer irreparable harm if the new rule is not blocked immediately.

“Any suspense voter on the list as of Oct. 2 will be part of a 90-day information and outreach process,” Shew said in a statement Thursday. “Each suspense voter will receive multiple mail reminders with a specific date for potential removal followed with staff contact via phone if possible. No voter will be removed without at least 90 days of contact and opportunity to know their rights and responsibilities.”

“I consider the right to vote as a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy and our office is committed to protecting that right for all Douglas County citizens,” Shew said.

Most of the incomplete registrations are being held “in suspense” because the applicant failed to provide proof of U.S. citizenship.

Kansas is one of only a handful of states that now require proof of citizenship before a person can register. The law was enacted in 2011 at the request of then newly elected Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and it took effect in 2013.

Statewide, there are more than 36,000 registrations being held in suspense, the vast majority of which are because of the proof of citizenship requirement.

Various news organizations, including the Journal-World, have obtained the list of voters in suspense to analyze what types of voters are being affected the most. The Journal-World’s analysis in October 2014 showed that the law disproportionately affected younger voters, voters with no party affiliation and voters from lower-income neighborhoods.

Last month, Kobach enacted a new administrative regulation requiring county election officers to cancel those applications after 90 days if the voters do not provide all the required information. That regulation is scheduled to take effect Friday.

On Wednesday, however, Lawrence attorneys Paul Davis and William Lawrence filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two Douglas County residents seeking to block that regulation from taking effect, and seeking to declare the entire proof of citizenship requirement unconstitutional.

Davis is a former Democratic state legislator from Lawrence who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year. Lawrence is an attorney in Davis’ firm and a former staff aide to Kansas Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka.

Kobach’s office issued a statement Wednesday defending the law and the new regulation and suggesting that the lawsuit is politically motivated.