From schools and community events to the mail box, groups are reminding Kansas residents that time is running out to register to vote – not only for this fall’s election but also before the rules change next year.
“We’re missionaries for getting this done,” said Betty Ladwig, who heads up voter registration efforts for the Wichita metro chapter of the League of Women Voters.
Oct. 16 is the deadline to register to be eligible to vote in the general election on Nov. 6. But starting Jan. 1, people registering to vote for the first time in Kansas will be required to present proof they’re U.S. citizens to election officials.
The proof-of-citizenship requirement was included in a package of election changes legislators approved last year at the urging of Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The requirement for voters to show photo identification at the polls took effect this year.
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Kobach attempted to move up the proof-of-citizenship rule to June 15 to catch the late push of registrations before this year’s elections, but that was rejected by the Legislature.
So far the numbers don’t reflect a large jump in voter registration in Kansas. There’s normally a bump in registrations during a presidential election year, and this year fits with what happened in 2008.
There was a 1.6 percent increase in registered voters from Jan. 1, 2008, through Sept. 1, 2008. This year, there has been a 1.8 percent increase in registrations from Jan. 1 through Sep.1. But of the 30,135 who have registered since the first of the year, more than half came between July 1 and Sept. 1, according to state records.
But those numbers aren’t from a lack of effort to register voters.
Groups such as the League of Women Voters, NAACP and League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) are taking every opportunity to get qualified people registered.
Since last September, United Teachers of Wichita has partnered with the League of Women voters to sign up 850 school staff, parents and students during parent-teacher conferences, said Randy Mousley, the union’s president.
The League of Women Voters was busy last week registering voters at Wichita State University, Northwest High School and a group of people who had just been sworn in as U.S. citizens during a ceremony at Century II.
Kobach and his critics clearly take a different view of the effects of the new law.
“We want to get them registered before Oct. 16,” said Ernestine Krehbiel, president of the Kansas League of Women Voters, “because this is a very important election. But the push isn’t so much to worry about this bogus boogey man as it is so we can get more people voting so we have a true representative government.
“The law is going to decrease voter participation, so we’re trying to counter that by helping get people registered under the wire.”
Kobach said there’s no reason to think proof-of-citizenship will hurt voting
“People are making the same empty arguments as they did about photo ID,” he said, noting that the 23.2 percent turnout for the August primary was almost 5 percentage points higher than projected.
Kobach has contended the proof-of-citizenship rule will prevent election fraud by ensuring that illegal immigrants and other non-citizens don’t register to vote.
His office found 32 non-citizens registered last year, and he thinks that is a fraction of the actual total.
Kansas has about 1.7 million registered voters, and fewer than 10 cases were reported over the past decade of non-citizens voting or attempting to vote, according to an Associated Press report. Critics say a proof-of-citizenship rule is unnecessary and will suppress voter turnout, particularly among the poor, minority, elderly and college-age voters.
Kansas is one of five states with laws that require proof-of-citizenship for first-time registrations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The others are Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama.
Arizona’s law, however, is on hold while it’s being challenged in the Ninth Circuit of Appeals. Like Kansas, the laws in Tennessee and Alabama haven’t taken effect yet.
Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship law is written in such a way that it will avoid the pitfalls facing Arizona, Kobach said.
Kansas has a list of 13 documents that people can use to show proof of citizenship. A birth certificate is a primary one.
Elias Garcia, LULAC’s state director, said a birth certificate isn’t easily available for Hispanics who are U.S. citizens. Record keeping in Hispanic families isn’t always good because they often have to move around, he said.
“I grew up in a migrant farmworker family,” said Garcia, who was born in Pueblo, Colo. “When I had to get my birth certificate at 14, I had to go to the county health department. It was very intimidating.”
Kobach said the law has been written to make it easy to comply. A person can take a picture of a birth certificate with a cell phone and text it to his office, scan it and send it by e-mail or make a copy and send it by mail, he said.
For about a year state law has required people getting a new driver’s license to show a birth certificate, he said, so many of the 18-year-olds registering to vote will already have a birth certificate on file electronically with the state. The secretary of state’s office can import that file to complete the citizenship requirement when registering, he said.
Most states are now moving to putting an indicator on driver’s licenses that show whether that person is a U.S. citizen. That’s being done to comply with a federal law that requires a driver’s license distinguish between alien and citizen when it is shown for ID at airport security, Kobach said.
Driver’s licenses issued in the next 12 months in Kansas are expected to have that citizenship indicator, he added, so those licenses could be shown for proof-of-citizenship by those registering to vote for the first time.
Louis Goseland, coordinator of KanVote, a Wichita-based group opposed to Kobach’s initiatives, said the proof-of-citizenship law will kill grassroots efforts to register people to vote.
“People aren’t going to be carrying around their birth certificate when they want to register at a table set up at a church,” he said. “The people at the table usually aren’t going to be equipped to scan in documents.”
But Kobach said the law won’t hurt grassroots efforts.
“Completely untrue,” he said. “We were aware of the importance of those efforts to register people at the mall. They can register at those places and send their proof of citizenship to us weeks, months, years later.”
Meanwhile, groups will keep pushing to register now so all those issues won’t be a factor.
The League of Women Voters has been targeting younger people because that group has a low registration history.
“I get this song and dance about my vote not counting, that the Electoral College means a presidential vote in Kansas doesn’t mean anything,” Krehbiel said. “That’s one thing that sets my teeth on edge. I have to explain there’s a lot more about voting than just for the president.”
Garcia his group has been busy educating the Hispanic community about the changes in election law through radio spots and have set up registration booths at fiestas around the state.
Hispanics are determined to get the documents required to prove citizenship, he said.
“We want to show we’re not going to take it,” Garcia said. “Throw out whatever barriers you want, we’re going to keep on keeping on. We’re going to continue to show we’re here, and we’re not going away.”