Politics & Government

More than 21,000 Kansans’ voter registrations in suspense because of proof of citizenship

De Anna Allen provides documents at the Old Sedgwick County Courthouse to have her name removed from a list of suspended voters. Allen was one of thousands of Kansans on the suspended voters list because she has not provided proof of citizenship.
De Anna Allen provides documents at the Old Sedgwick County Courthouse to have her name removed from a list of suspended voters. Allen was one of thousands of Kansans on the suspended voters list because she has not provided proof of citizenship. The Wichita Eagle

De Anna Allen has served on a jury. She has served her country.

So she was surprised when she couldn’t vote.

Allen went to cast a ballot in the primary election in August and poll workers couldn’t find her name among the list of registered voters. She did cast a ballot, but it was provisional and did not count.

Allen was among 27,131 people statewide who had signed up to vote but whose registrations were considered in suspense, or limbo, as of Oct. 14, the last day to register before the midterm election. Most of them – 23,026, including Allen – had not yet provided proof of citizenship. By Friday, the state had whittled that number to 21,473.

Sedgwick County had the second-highest number of people on the suspended list behind Johnson County. Johnson County had 4,781 on the list, while Sedgwick County had 4,735.

The numbers of Kansans with incomplete registration because of citizenship are highest among the young and unaffiliated, an Eagle analysis found. Statewide, 12,327 people who identified as unaffiliated had their registrations suspended because of lack of proof of citizenship, compared with 4,787 who identified as Republicans, 3,948 who identified as Democrats and 361 who identified as Libertarians. Not all who applied identified a party, records requested by The Wichita Eagle from the state show.

The number of men and women with suspended registrations was split pretty evenly.

“It just caught me off guard that I was not registered,” Allen said. “I served for a week on a jury trial, which basically told me I was a registered voter. I’m a disabled veteran, so it’s particularly frustrating. Why should I have to prove my citizenship when I served in the military?”

Because of a move, apparently, Allen was affected by a law that went into effect Jan. 1, 2013, that requires people registering to vote for the first time to provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport.

She left Kansas in 2004 and came back in January 2013. She registered to vote when she went to get her driver’s license.

After she attempted to vote in the primary, “I got a letter saying I needed to give them my birth certificate.”

Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman could not speak to Allen specifically but said a provisional ballot cast by anyone who had not provided proof of citizenship by the day before the primary election would not have counted.

Allen, who served in the Air Force, found the documents she needed and went to the Sedgwick County election office last week to provide proof of citizenship. She took her birth certificate, marriage license, military discharge papers and a certificate showing she had served on a jury.

She had been registered as a Republican. Now she’s registered as unaffiliated, she said.

“I have views that are different than a Republican. I have views that are different than a Democrat,” she said.

Key issue in Secretary of State race

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach pushed for the law requiring proof of citizenship. He is well known across the country as an advocate of such laws. Kansas operates the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which compares voter registration records from one state with 28 others to identify potential voter fraud.

Opponents of proof of citizenship requirements say the laws are a solution in search of a problem.

“The actual incidence of illegal voting is very low,” said Jonathan Brater, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program.

Brater said Kansas’ law not only is a solution in search of a problem but “it creates problems. There’s all these people who are on a suspense list right now. They’ve asserted under penalty of perjury that they’re eligible to vote. But because they weren’t able to show their papers when they tried to register, they’re going to now have a much harder time participating.”

Proof of citizenship laws are overreaching, the center says.

“You have to say you meet the eligibility requirements when you register. You check a box that says I’m a citizen,” Brater said.

The citizenship requirement has been a key issue in the race between Kobach, a Republican, and his challenger, Democrat Jean Schodorf, a former state senator.

Kobach says that it’s easy for people to resolve citizenship and that they can do it from home.

“Just in the last week, we’ve had about 1,000 people complete the process,” Kobach said Tuesday from Topeka. More and more people have decided to send an e-mail in. It’s that easy. There are people who make the last-minute decision to go ahead and finish up the registration process. And there are many others who do not.”

He said some people on the list may think “I’ll just wait and do it for the presidential election.”

Kobach said during a recent campaign debate that the state didn’t know how many of the 23,000 people on the list were actually citizens. He said non-citizens’ voting canceled out the votes of citizens.

Schodorf said she doesn’t think proving citizenship is as easy as Kobach thinks. She also thinks it’s a form of poll tax, a term for laws meant to prevent African-Americans from voting during segregation.

“I think that he has the lowest regard for our citizens and that he is out of touch with Kansans and how we are living our busy lives,” she said.

Instead of putting the burden of proof on Kansans, Schodorf said, the state should use its own records to check people off the list.

“The DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) promised to have a whole database with birth certificates already in the database so citizens wouldn’t have to show any documentation,” Schodorf said. “That promise was broken. We should automate vital statistics so the state can look up if a person is born in Kansas.”

Kay Curtis, a spokeswoman for Kobach’s office, said in an e-mail that the state is comparing birth and marriage records. “Our office forwards the matches to the relevant county, where changes of the status of registrant from incomplete to active are made when all requirements are met (application is signed, address is legible, valid document is submitted, etc.).”

Kobach said Schodorf “seems to think that there’s a magical computer database and you plug a person’s name into it and it says if they’re a citizen or not a citizen.”

“You can’t put the proof of burden on the state as she has imagined and then expect the state to be able to effectively determine which people are not citizens,” he said.

But when citizens have problems registering to vote, Schodorf said, the state “needs to take the responsibility and help citizens maneuver through this red tape.”

“I have people telling me about the problem of trying to go through this minefield of documents when they have voted their whole lives,” she said.

“Right now they are presumed guilty by Kris Kobach, and they have to prove their innocence.”

Voters on the list

The Eagle called dozens of voters on the list.

Felix Agosto, 20, tried to register to vote in June, records show.

He said he signed up at a festival. He received a letter from the state saying he needed to provide proof of citizenship.

His mother, who lives in Wichita, has the records he needs, he said.

He attempted to register as unaffiliated.

Several younger voters The Eagle reached said they were away at college and the documents that they needed were at home in Wichita.

Ben Archibeque is at Kansas State University.

“I needed my mom to scan in my birth certificate,” he said.

That took a while, he said.

“ It was inconvenient, I thought,” he said. “But it was only inconvenient because I wasn’t at home.”

He said he understands the voter ID law and why it’s needed.

“But if you’re living here, your opinion still matters. People should be here legally, but I think everyone should have the right to vote.”

Desirae Aguila, 25, tried to register in September as an unaffiliated voter.

She signed up to vote during a Women, Infants and Children appointment. WIC is a supplemental nutrition program.

She needs to send in proof of citizenship, but “I have four kids under 5 years old. I’m not going to worry about it. I was born here. I shouldn’t have to go through all this trouble.”

Roy Morgan, 26, tried to register as a Democrat in September.

“I printed out the form from online,” he said. “I filled out the form and then mailed it in. I didn’t know I needed to provide proof of citizenship. I found that out later.”

When he received notice from the state, he took his birth certificate to the election office, he said.

“The process was easy to get resolved,” he said.

He said it wasn’t a big deal to take the extra step.

Aaron Anderson, 43, attempted to register in August as an independent voter.

He filled out his registration online.

Then he got a notice from the state.

“I’m just kind of frustrated,” he said.

He said he had voted in three previous elections but it had been eight years since he had voted. He works two jobs and has little time.

“You just want to pull your hair out,” he said.

‘A little confused’

A few people The Eagle called said they didn’t realize they were on the list, something that Kansas People’s Action said was a problem in a news release Tuesday.

The release said the group had contacted “hundreds of suspended voters who claim to have never received notification from the Secretary of State that they’ve been placed on Kobach’s list.”

“I’m very surprised to hear that,” said Curtis with Kobach’s office.

She said county election officials are supposed to notify voters who have some homework to do to vote.

Steve Aaron, 63, a Democrat, said he didn’t know he was on the list until he called to get a mail-in ballot.

He had printed out a registration and mailed it in.

“I never heard back from them,” he said.

When he called to get a mail-in ballot, “I was not in the computer. They said, ‘I will mail you a ballot anyway,’ which I have not received.”

Sandra Naranjo, 18, who tried to register as an unaffiliated voter, said she registered online. She said she provided proof of citizenship to the state in the form of a birth certificate.

“I’m a little confused,” she said when contacted by The Eagle about being on the list.

Jenna Nelson, 18, also an independent voter, said she got a registration application from her church.

“My dad got it for me,” she said. “I filled it out then. I just mailed it in.”

Nelson said she has dual citizenship in the United States and Cambodia.

She said she hadn’t received notice of a problem, but then opened her mail from the day as she was on the phone with an Eagle reporter.

Asked if she would try to resolve her registration, she said, “I don’t know. Probably. Possibly.”

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

Clock is ticking to prove citizenship

If you have received notice that you need to provide proof of citizenship or resolve some other type of problem with your voter registration, you still have time to do so before the Nov. 4 election.

“If they’ve turned in their application but have been reminded that they have another step, they have until the day before the election to provide proof of citizenship,” said Kay Curtis, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office.

Prospective voters can take in proof in person or scan in proof and e-mail it to their county election officer. Proof also can be faxed or even mailed in “as long as it’s in time,” Curtis said.

Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said her office at the historic courthouse at 510 N. Main will close at 5 p.m. Monday, the day before the general election.

Sedgwick County residents can fax registration and proof of citizenship to 316-660-7125 or e-mail it to voterinformation@sedgwick.gov until 11:59 p.m. Monday, Lehman said.

How to prove citizenship

The documents below can be used to prove citizenship, according to www.gotvoterid.com.

▪ Birth certificate that verifies U.S. citizenship

▪ U.S. passport or pertinent pages of the applicant’s valid or expired U.S. passport identifying the applicant and the applicant’s passport number

▪ U.S. naturalization documents or the number of the certificate of naturalization

▪ Other documents or methods of proof of U.S. citizenship issued by the federal government pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952

▪ Bureau of Indian Affairs card number, tribal treaty card number or tribal enrollment number

▪ Consular report of birth abroad of a citizen of the United States

▪ Certificate of citizenship issued by the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services

▪ Certification of report of birth issued by the U.S. Department of State

▪ American Indian card, with a “KIC” classification, issued by the United States Department of Homeland Security

▪ Final adoption decree showing the applicant’s name and U.S. birthplace

▪ U.S. military record of service showing applicant’s place of birth in the United States

▪ Extract from a U.S. hospital record of birth created at the time of the applicant’s birth indicating the applicant’s place of birth in the United States

▪ Only if the agency indicates on the applicant’s driver’s license or nondriver’s identification card that the person has provided satisfactory proof of U.S. citizenship, then a driver’s license or non-driver’s identification card issued by the Kansas Division of Vehicles or the equivalent governmental agency of another state within the United States

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