In Kansas, you have to show proof that you are a U.S. citizen to register to vote, and that requirement has held up tens of thousands of registrations and produced an enormous list of would-be voters who are essentially in limbo — all because they haven’t shown a birth certificate or passport. Now Kansas’ top elections official in Kansas wants that list purged, and that’s leading to a fight. Like a lot of people, Cody Keener registered to vote for the first time at the Division of Motor Vehicles. Keener is 21 and comes from a long line of Kansans. So he figured he was set to both drive and vote, but he was wrong. He recently learned that his registration is incomplete because he hasn’t shown proof that he’s a U.S. citizen. “It’s very discouraging to young people,” says Keener. “I’m a full-time student, I work anywhere from 20 to 30 hours a week.”
Keener says that digging up documentation to complete the registration will be a hassle. To make matters worse, his wife is also on the state’s list of suspended voters, along with more than 36,000 other people — a group that would just about fill major a league baseball stadium.
“And when you have that many people who didn’t finish their registrations, you know something is the matter with the law,” says Marge Ahrens, co-president of the League of Woman Voters of Kansas. “It’s a sign of failure.”
Ahrens says the list has exploded since 2013, when the state started requiring proof of citizenship. It’s ballooned into by far the largest list of its type, according to the ACLU. One reason is that unlike Arizona and Georgia — the two other states that currently require proof of citizenship to vote — Kansas has never imposed a time limit on completing a voter registration.