September 23, 2013

Data show applications of would-be Kansas voters can be on hold for years

An analysis of data by The Associated Press shows that the number of voter registrations on hold has ballooned since Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship law took effect in January. But 3,500 on-hold registrations predate the proof-of-citizenship law. One Johnson County application has been on hold since 1964.

As Kansas election officials deal with thousands of prospective voters who have not yet complied with a proof-of-citizenship law, hundreds of registrations have remained on hold for more than a year for other reasons, a computer analysis by The Associated Press 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 of registrations on hold has ballooned to more than 21,500 since the law took effect in January. It requires a new voter to produce a birth certificate, passport or other papers proving 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 not turned 18. About 17,300 registrations are now on the list because of the proof-of-citizenship rule.

Through an open records request, the AP obtained the statewide list of registrations on hold as of Friday, the latest data available, and 3,500 predate this year’s proof-of-citizenship law. More than 2,500 registrations, or almost 12 percent, are more than a year old. And about 900 registrations, or about 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 the AP’s computer analysis shows a small number dating to the 1980s or 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, an election commissioner in Johnson County, where more than 21 percent of the state’s 1.7 million registered voters live. An additional 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 noncitizens, particularly those who are in the U.S. illegally, from voting. Critics of the law say it unnecessarily suppresses turnout. The American Civil Liberties Union has threatened to file a federal lawsuit to block the law.

Kobach has argued that because federal law requires states to allow people to register to vote at drivers’ license offices, the new law’s biggest effect is on people who fill out registration forms at those offices and don’t provide citizenship papers because they don’t plan to vote. Other election officials worry they will see a rush of people providing such documents next year, particularly ahead of the November general election.

State Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican who leads the House Elections Committee, said some people will fill out registrations forms but “just don’t care enough to finish.”

“There’s really not much you can do about it,” Schwab said, though he also wants to review the administration of the proof-of-citizenship law, which he supported.

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. Officials said those few, oldest listings could belong to voters who once were registered properly but then moved or had another issue arise sometime since.

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.

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