With advance balloting for the 2016 primaries to begin in less than a month, county election officials throughout Kansas are still unsure about which voters will be allowed to cast ballots in which races. “The counties have been all talking about this,” Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said. “I’m ready for all scenarios. If on the day before the election we get an order that tells us one way or another, I can operate either way. I think most counties are preparing for that.” What is complicating the elections this year are three active lawsuits that challenge different aspects of state voting laws that require people to show proof of U.S. citizenship to register to vote. Since 2013, Kansas has required people to show documentary proof of citizenship. But because there are multiple ways people can register to vote, some voters have registered without being asked for those documents. Specifically, those include an estimated 18,000 people who registered at a motor vehicle office when they obtained or renewed their driver’s license under the federal “motor voter” law. Those people had their registrations placed “in suspense” and have not been allowed to vote unless they followed up by sending in the required citizenship proof.
Another group includes people who registered using a federal mail-in form which, until recently, was uniform across the United States and did not ask for proof of citizenship. During the 2014 elections, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who championed the citizenship law, issued a policy saying those voters were allowed to cast ballots in federal races only, but were not allowed to vote in state or local elections. Shew said there are about 800 voters in Douglas County who may be allowed to vote only in federal races this year.
The Lawrence Journal-World recently filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act for the list of all voters whose registrations are being held in suspense, including information about why their registrations are deemed incomplete and the method by which they attempted to register.
Kobach’s office has denied that request, citing provisions of the federal “motor voter” law as well as protective orders issued by the federal judge in Kansas City sealing certain records that were entered as evidence in that case.