One-third of Kansas voter registration applications held up

Roughly one-third of all voter registration applications submitted in Kansas since Jan. 1 are in “suspense” because applicants could not provide proof of citizenship, but some say a flawed computer upgrade is responsible for most of the problem.

Six months after the state started requiring new voters to prove their citizenship, 11,101 people who attempted to register were considered unqualified to vote because of lack of proof of citizenship, the Lawrence Journal-World reported. During that period, 20,780 have been added to the voter rolls, according to figures provided by the Kansas secretary of state’s office

When people show proof of U.S. citizenship to get a driver’s license in Kansas, the documentation is not making it to election officials for voter registration purposes, said Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew.

“There are quite a few in suspense across the state, and we (in Douglas County) are no different than that,” Shew said.

In Douglas County, 339 of the 370 applications in suspense are due to a lack of citizenship documentation, and 310 of them came from the state’s Division of Vehicles, where people often register to vote while getting their driver’s license, Shew said.

The 370 voter registrations that are in suspense come out of about 1,000 applications, which means 37 percent are in suspense since the new requirement took effect.

“The large number … right now is a concern among election officers throughout the state. And that is just within a six-month time in an off season. What does that number look like in an election season?” Shew said.

A $40 million upgrade to the computer system that handles driver’s licenses was supposed to allow the Division of Vehicles to store electronic copies of birth certificates and other documents proving a driver’s citizenship and transfer them to election officials, as needed.

That hasn’t happened yet, Shew said, and without the documents, election officials have to send letters and contact applicants to tell them their voter registration needs to be cleared up.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican who pushed for the Kansas law, said he is confident the system will soon be seamless. The goal, he said, was to have a system were the Division of Vehicles automatically transfers proof-of-citizenship documents to election officials “without any human touching a button.”

Kobach said those documents currently are being transferred by email, but Shew said that isn’t the case.

One reason that a large number of registrations are in suspense is that people might not see any urgency now to provide those documents because there isn’t a big election scheduled in the near future, Kobach said.