Groups urge Legislature to change proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration
Topeka — As the Kansas Legislature started a special session today, minority and voting rights groups urged legislators to repeal a law that has resulted in 15,000 Kansans applying to vote but remaining unable to cast ballots.
“I live in Overland Park, where we’re having an election next month,” said Aaron Belenky, whose registration application is in ‘suspense.’
“My voter registration has been unlawfully ‘suspended,’ and unless the Legislature repeals this law, I will be denied my most fundamental freedom, the right to vote,” said Belenky.
The dispute is over a new state law that requires people who register to vote to provide proof of U.S. citizenship with a document, such as a birth certificate or passport.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Arizona proof-of-citizenship requirement similar to the current Kansas law.
The ACLU, NAACP, and Equality Kansas say the Kansas law should also be invalidated.
There are more than 15,000 Kansans who have applied to register to vote but have not had their registration finalized and are said to be in “suspense.”
During a rally of about 80 people in the Statehouse, Derek Bruey, an 18-year-old from Wichita, said his registration is in “suspense,” even though he provided proof of citizenship with a birth certificate when filling out forms to register to vote while getting a driver’s license. Some have complained that the documentation provided for a driver’s license is not tracking with the documentation for voter registration.
Bruey said he received a notice from the state that he would have to provide the proof-of-citizenship documentation again at the local election office.
He said the law was an “intentional effort” to make it more difficult for him to vote.
“There are over 15,000 Kansans who have complied with federal law, and it’s time to register them, let them vote, and have their votes be counted,” said Holly Weatherford, advocacy director for the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri. “The Kansas Legislature must act today to protect the right to vote for all eligible voters in Kansas,” she said.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who pushed for the proof-of-citizenship requirement, has defended the Kansas law.
Kobach and the secretary of state of Arizona are seeking a court order requiring the United States Election Assistance Commission to modify the federal voter registration form to include those states’ requirements that a person provide proof of citizenship to register to vote.
Glenda Overstreet, president of the NAACP Kansas State Conference, said Kobach was wasting taxpayer money on a “misguided lawsuit.”
“Since January 1st, he (Kobach) has flouted that law, insisting that Kansans provide documentation that is simply not required,” said Overstreet. “Voting is the most fundamental freedom we have as Americans, and Kobach’s scheme is un-American and must end immediately,” she said.
The Legislature convened a special session today to change the state’s law requiring life in prison with no possibility of parole for 50 years for certain heinous murders. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has thrown the law into question.
Gov. Sam Brownback and legislative leaders have said they want the session to focus solely on changing the Hard 50 law and considering a number of Brownback appointments.