Editorial: System works?

One voter’s positive experience doesn’t mean the Kansas voter registration system is working for everyone.

When the Kansas Election Board announced last week that it had certified the citizenship of a 75-year-old Osage County woman so her voter registration could be completed, Secretary of State Kris Kobach hailed it as a “perfect example” of how the Kansas system is working.

The system certainly did work for Jo French, who was unable to register to vote because she didn’t have a birth certificate and was unable to obtain one from her home state of Arkansas. After learning of her case, Kobach said, his office took it upon itself to dig up many of the documents that eventually served as proof of French’s citizenship. At a rare meeting, the Election Board examined census records, a family Bible, a baptism record and other documents and were satisfied French was born in the U.S. and could be registered to vote.

How many other Kansans are in Jo French’s shoes and simply haven’t gotten the secretary of state’s attention? She got the help she needed, but is the secretary of state’s office willing to provide the same services to some of the nearly 29,000 other Kansans whose voter registration applications are on hold because they don’t include proof of citizenship?

The office reportedly has reduced that list by comparing applications against Kansas birth records. Is it willing to help other people who were born in other states obtain their birth records? Or obtain marriage records for people who have changed their names? Are any of those people less deserving of the state’s assistance than French?

It’s not surprising that French is satisfied with the service she received, although she said she was surprised that she had to prove her citizenship to vote. “… I thought ‘I don’t look funny, I don’t talk funny, I’ve been here all of my life.’ And I just couldn’t imagine having to go through this procedure to prove that I live here and that I can vote,” she told reporters.

Fortunately, looking or talking “funny” has no bearing on a citizen’s right to participate in the voting process. Unfortunately, various court battles and last-minute state policy decisions have created so much confusion in the Kansas voter registration system that some voters may be surprised at the polls about the status of their registration or in what races their votes will be counted.

Hopefully, Tuesday’s primary election will draw strong participation from voters across the state, and voters who face unexpected obstacles at their polling places will make the effort to resolve those problems before the November general election.