Orders from court, plus flood of new voters lead to delay in certifying voter rolls

A voter heads to a polling precinct at Central United Methodist Church before noon Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

? More than a week after county election officials in Kansas were supposed to have certified their voter registration rolls for the Nov. 8 election, several county officials say they still need more time, citing a mountain of backlogged registrations still being processed.

“All the big counties keep receiving lists of stuff that need to be worked,” Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said Friday.

Tuesday, Oct. 18, was the deadline for voters to register in time for the election. And according to a calendar on the secretary of state’s website, the following Thursday, Oct. 20, was the day county election officers were supposed to certify to the secretary of state and county party chairs their voter registration numbers, broken down by precinct and party affiliation.

But Bryan Caskey, director of elections in the secretary of state’s office, said delays in certifying those rolls happen “every single time, even in primaries.” And he said that’s especially true in presidential election years, which typically produce the highest levels of voter turnout.

Shew said there were two main issues that he and other election officials are grappling with: a flood of new registrations, or changes to old registrations, that came through in the final days before the Oct. 18 deadline, and recent federal court orders to add thousands of people to the voting rolls whose registrations had been held in suspense for failing to provide proof of U.S. citizenship.

In June, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Kansas must register voters who signed up at a motor vehicle offices under federal rules that do not require them to show proof of citizenship. That ruling also applied to voters who had registered using a federal mail-in form that also did not ask for proof of citizenship.

And in September, a state court in Topeka said those voters must be allowed to cast ballots in all elections, not just in federal races as Secretary of State Kris Kobach had intended.

Shew said local offices and the Division of Vehicles at the Kansas Department of Revenue are still sifting through registrations that previously had been held in suspense but which now must be activated.

In addition, Shew said, a large number of voters attempted to register online in the final days before the deadline, and many of those were counted as incomplete for various reasons.

“It appears a lot of voters think they’ve completed the process, but they haven’t,” he said. “At last count, we had 160 error records.”

Shew said his office receives batches of those error records each day, and officials try to contact the voter to obtain whatever missing information is needed to complete the registration

“We’re quite a ways off yet,” Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker said when asked how long it would take his office to certify its voter rolls. “We just had a discussion with the secretary of state’s office. All of the ‘bigs,’ the largest counties, are having great difficulty with the tsunami we encountered in last three or four days before the deadline.”

Metsker said that in March, voter registration in Johnson County broke its previous record of about 381,000 voters, and it has been climbing every day since. As of Friday, he said, there were more than 405,000 registered voters in that county.

He attributed that to Johnson County’s growing population and heightened public interest in this year’s presidential race. But he said there is always a last-minute rush of new registratiions as well as people updating their registrations to reflect name changes or changes of address.

While county election offices are dealing with that, Metsker said, record numbers of voters have shown up this week to cast advance ballots in person at various advance voting locations in Johnson County.

Speaking by phone, Metsker said he could look out his window and see a line of vehicles coming into the election commission building that nearly reached into the street to obstruct traffic.

Metsker said he had already contacted area law enforcement agencies to ask for traffic control next week because, historically, the second week of advance voting is the heaviest.

Caskey said he hopes to have final, certified registration numbers by Thursday, Nov. 3. He also said the office has tentatively scheduled a news conference for that day to announce the numbers and the prediction for voter turnout for the general election.