Proof-of-citizenship law could put Kansas voters on hold for years
TOPEKA (AP) — As Kansas election officials deal with thousands of prospective voters who've not yet complied with a proof-of-citizenship law, hundreds of registrations have remained on hold for more than a year for other reasons, an Associated Press computer analysis shows.
The analysis of state data suggests that a significant number of registrations being put on hold by election officials now over the proof-of-citizenship requirement could remain on hold as next year's elections approach — and beyond. The number on hold has ballooned to more than 21,500 since the Kansas law took effect in January, requiring new voters to produce a birth certificate, passport or other papers proving their U.S. citizenship when registering.
People with registrations on hold cannot legally vote, and if they went to the polls, their ballots would be set aside and not counted. People's registrations have been put on hold in the past because they didn't fill out forms fully or correctly or because they had yet to turn 18, but now about 17,300 are on the list because of the proof-of-citizenship rule.
Through an open records request, AP obtained the statewide list of registrations on hold as of Friday, the latest data available, and 3,500 pre-date this year's proof-of-citizenship law. More than 2,500, or almost 12 percent, are more than a year old. And about 900, or roughly 4 percent, are more than five years old.
Election officials say state and federal laws limit their ability to cancel registrations that are on hold, and AP's computer analysis shows that a small number listed as dating to the 1980s and even earlier. A few officials are asking whether the state should set a new policy for canceling old registrations on hold.
"There's not a law that allows us to (cancel the registrations), so they're there forever," said Brian Newby, election commissioner in Johnson County, where more than 21 percent of the state's 1.7 million registered voters live. Another 4,700 have registrations on hold, including 478 with on-hold registrations that are more than a year old.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, successfully pushed for the proof-of-citizenship law as a way to prevent non-citizens, particularly those in the U.S. illegally, from voting. Critics of the law contend that it unnecessarily suppresses turnout, and the American Civil Liberties Union has threatened to file a federal lawsuit.
Kobach has argued that because federal law requires states to allow people to register to vote at driver's license offices, the new law's biggest effect is on people who fill out registration forms at those offices and don't follow through in providing citizenship papers because they don't plan to vote. Other election officials worry that they'll see a rush of people providing such documents next year, particularly ahead of the November 2014 general election.
Election officials said such prospective voters can remain on hold indefinitely if notices mailed by election officials aren't returned as undeliverable. Forty-six registrations on the statewide list as of Friday were listed as being more than 20 years old — including one in Johnson County dated July 1964.
Geary County Clerk Rebecca Bossemeyer said the state needs to address the problem.
"Administratively, having people hanging out there for years and years is not the best way to manage that database," she said.