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Happy National Voter Registration Day (Unless You Live in Kansas)

Julie Ebenstein,
Senior Staff Attorney,
Voting Rights Project, ACLU
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September 24, 2013

Today is National Voter Registration Day, a non-partisan celebration of the right to vote and a nationally-coordinated effort to register thousands of voters. Unless, of course, you live in Kansas.

While volunteers all over the country have mobilized to register eligible voters and encourage participation in the democratic process, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has erected unnecessary barriers to registration. In the past nine months, the “suspense” list of Kansan would-be voters who the state has not yet registered has grown to 17,000.

Last year, Kansas passed a law requiring that first time voters provide proof of citizenship in addition to fulfilling the requirements on the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) federal form. The Kansas law is similar to the Arizona law the Supreme Court struck down in the case Arizona v. Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona.

Following the Supreme Court decision, Kansas has said that they would “accept and use” voter registration applications, but still require proof of citizenship to complete a registration. In violation of the NVRA, applicants for registration are not added to the voter rolls, but are put on a “suspense list” and are not registered to vote until they provide proof of citizenship. The proof of citizenship requirement is a distinction without a real difference from the Arizona “accept and use” question, except that the additional proof requirement comes at a slightly later time.

As a result, 17,100 people have been put on the suspense list since January, about one-third of the people who have tried to register to vote. Approximately 80 percent of people tried to register at the Division of Motor Vehicles. It appears that many of the applicants who seek to register at the DMV are showing proof of citizenship to get a license (or have shown proof in the past and are renewing their license), but are still added to the suspense list.

In the meantime, Kobach is not concerned because “[t]hese are mostly casual registrants, many of whom do not intend to vote.” Along with the Secretary of State of Arizona, he is suing the Election Assistance Commission under the APA to get them to add the proof of citizenship to the federal form as a state instruction.

In 2008, six million Americans didn’t vote because they missed a registration deadline or didn’t know how to register. As most of us try to ensure that eligible voters are not left out of the next election, Kansas’s suspense list is growing by the thousands.

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