Four times as many prospective Kansas voters have their registrations on hold for failing to meet a proof-of-citizenship requirement than for all other reasons combined, state statistics show.
Kansans with registrations on hold can't legally cast ballots. A law that took effect in January requires new Kansas voters to produce a birth certificate, passport or other papers documenting their U.S. citizenship, but election officials also put registrations on hold for other reasons, such as when people fill out registration forms improperly or register before turning 18.
Kansas had about 21,300 voter registrations on hold this week, and more than 17,100 — 80 percent of the total — were for people who hadn't met the proof-of-citizenship requirement. The secretary of state's office provided the figures to The Associated Press.
Most voters whose registrations are on hold filled out their forms at a driver's license office, the secretary of state's office says. Kansas requires anyone obtaining a new license to document that they're living in the U.S. legally, but the Department of Revenue, which oversees licensing, has backed away from requiring anyone renewing a license to do the same.
The department's shift and the number of registrations on hold led a key backer of the proof-of-citizenship law, Kansas House Elections Committee Chairman Scott Schwab, to promise to review its administration after the Legislature reconvenes next year.
"Something's got to change," Schwab, an Olathe Republican, said Wednesday.
Kansas has about 1.7 million registered voters. But the number of people with registrations on hold over the proof-of-citizenship rule surpasses the ballots typically cast in a state House race and could swing a tight statewide election.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, championed the proof-of-citizenship law as a way to prevent noncitizens, particularly those in the U.S. illegally, from voting. He said at least 15 noncitizens were registered to vote at the end of 2012, and Sedgwick County officials recently reported a case of someone on the "suspense" list acknowledging being a noncitizen — and thus, unable to comply with the proof-of-citizenship law.
"A percentage of those 17,000 who haven't proven their citizenship can't and shouldn't be allowed to register," Kobach said. "The system is working."
Federal election laws mandate that states allow people to register to vote at driver's license offices. In Kansas, such registrations account for more than 80 percent of those on hold over the proof-of-citizenship rule.
"These are mostly casual registrants, many of whom do not intend to vote," Kobach said.
Holly Weatherford, program director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri, called the number "shocking." The ACLU strongly opposed the law's enactment and has threatened to file a federal lawsuit.
"We have sort of created a problem where a problem didn't exist," she said.
Page 2 of 2 - Weatherford and other critics of the law contend it suppresses voter turnout, an argument Kobach called "idiotic." He likened the proof-of-citizenship requirement to the state law requiring voter registration and said his office had expected that registrations on hold "would be in the thousands."
But Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew, a Democrat, said county election officials hadn't anticipated the Department of Revenue's policy shift on driver's licenses. Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan said this week that the department was responding to concerns about inconveniencing drivers and to cues from federal officials that less would be required of states under a 2005 anti-terrorism law designed to make driver's licenses secure.
"None of us truly believed it was going to be a seamless, no-harm implementation, but none of us thought there would be this many (registrations on hold) at this point," Shew said.