Spanish-language voter guides distributed by the Kansas secretary of state’s office did not match the English-language version and contained errors that could have resulted in people who relied on them being unable to register and vote.
The errors added fuel to complaints that Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s voter registration policies pose hurdles for some voters, including minorities. Ongoing lawsuits challenge the proof-of-citizenship requirements he wrote and shepherded through the Legislature.
Craig McCullah, who is in charge of the office’s publications and a spokesman for Kobach, accepted responsibility for the errors and said they resulted from a clerical mistake in updating the guides for this year’s elections.
It was an administrative error that I am diligently working to fix.
Craig McCullah, secretary of state’s office
“It was an administrative error that I am diligently working to fix,” he said.
McCullah said discrepancies in registration deadlines were corrected in the online version of the guide in the past 24 hours and the rest of the text is being sent to a professional translating service to eliminate mismatches between the English and Spanish versions.
The problem went public in a post on the Daily Kos website by Democratic consultant Chris Reeves of Overland Park. Reeves said a native Spanish speaker alerted him to the errors when he stopped by Garden City to check in with local Democrats while on a trip to western Kansas.
They found two significant differences between the guides published for English and Spanish speakers:
▪ The Spanish version of the guide said, in two places, that voters could register up to 15 days before an election. The actual deadline, 21 days before the election, was correct in the English guide.
▪ The English guide noted that prospective voters could use a passport as evidence of citizenship to register to vote. Passports, likely to be held by Hispanic naturalized citizens, were left off the list of acceptable ID in the Spanish-language guide.
It’s pretty easy to spot something’s wrong when they’re using the numeral 21 (in the English guide) and in the other one, the numeral’s 15.
Chris Reeves, Daily Kos
About half of Garden City residents are Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau.
“An individual there was very concerned and she said, ‘Well, these guides are all trash. They’re wrong,’ ” Reeves said. “I went back and I went to the VoteKS website. Sure enough, there they were and they were wrong.”
“It’s pretty easy to spot something’s wrong when they’re using the numeral 21 (in the English guide) and in the other one, the numeral’s 15,” he said. “That doesn’t take any translation. The numbers are the numbers.”
He said he contacted an attorney who confirmed that federal voting-rights law requires states to give the same information in English and alternate-language guides. The guides are used to advise voters for both state and federal elections.
In 2014, the state changed the deadline for registering from 15 days before an election to 21 days, McCullah said. He said he’s still investigating where the errors crept in, but it appears the updated guide contained language copied from a guide published before the 2014 change.
McCullah said he was unsure whether printed copies of the guide had been distributed by the secretary of state’s office or downloaded and copied by residents for use in their registration drives.