Ralph Ortiz served in the Air Force for 13 years. He was stationed on bases in the Middle East and in Kansas, where he decided to live after leaving the military. He registered to vote more than a year ago. But Ortiz was stunned to find out recently that his name was purged from the Kansas voting rolls because of a requirement he did not know about: He had to prove he was a U.S. citizen. Ortiz had gone to the Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles to renew his license, and he registered to vote at the same time. Ortiz did not have documents that prove his citizenship, and no one asked him for any. Last fall, he received a letter saying his voter registration was “in suspense” because he had not shown proof of citizenship documents, a state requirement to register in Kansas. His name is off the rolls. “I was shocked,” said Ortiz, a 35-year-old father of four who was born in New York. “I defended my country for 13 years. I own a home here in Kansas. I pay taxes in Kansas. I register my vehicles in Kansas. I’m a veteran who’s registered with the VA. There were many different avenues for them to figure out that I was a U.S. citizen. It was insulting.”
National attention on voting rights has mostly focused on whether new voter-identification laws in states such as North Carolina and Texas will disenfranchise minority voters. But there is a battle unfolding in Kansas over who can register to vote in the first place. Election-law experts say what happens here could have ramifications for voting throughout the country during a pivotal presidential election year.
On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union sued Kansas, saying that thousands of Kansas residents such as Ortiz are “trapped in limbo” because of the requirement that Kansas residents who register to vote have to show documents, such as a birth certificate or a passport, proving they are citizens.
“What’s happening in Kansas is outrageous,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Thousands of Kansans, including military veterans who have valiantly served our country, are blocked from voting by unnecessary bureaucratic roadblocks imposed by state officials. These shameful actions have made Kansas an epicenter of voter suppression.”