A Kansas law has wreaked havoc on the state's voting system, according to the ACLU, which says that only 7,444 of the more than 22,000 registration applications submitted between February 1 and February 21 of this year have been approved. The Associated Press reports that the remaining applications are in suspense, or incomplete.
The ACLU filed a federal suit against Kansas back in February over its complicated voting laws, which require those who register using a state form, rather than a federal one, to provide identification—a measure much more stringent than in most other states. The AP explains:
Kansas is one of four states, along with Georgia, Alabama and Arizona, to require documentary proof of citizenship—such as a birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers—to register to vote. Under Kansas' challenged system, voters who registered using a federal form, which hadn't required proof of U.S. citizenship, could only vote in federal races and not in state or local races.
Residents are allowed to register using a state form without identification, but their forms are then placed into suspension for 90 days and then purged from the system. The ACLU found that young voters were most likely to register without the ID required: The AP reports that people aged 18 to 29 "[make] up more than 58% of applicants who registered at motor vehicle offices and are on the suspense list."
People who register to vote without IDs can vote at the federal level, but not the state one. The state's primaries are in August.
The Washington Post reported in February that some Kansas residents weren't aware that their applications were in suspense. The Post recounted the story of Ralph Ortiz, a veteran who "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."
The Post added that Ortiz didn't know that his application was incomplete until he received a letter telling him he wasn't registered because his application was in suspense. "I was shocked,” Ortiz told the Post. "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.”
In the lawsuit, the ACLU argued that Ortiz's situation was not uncommon:
Over the last three years [since Kansas changed its voting laws] Defendants have placed more than 35,000 would-be Kansas voters on a “suspense list,” and of these individuals, approximately 22,000 remain in suspense or have been purged altogether from the registration system, solely because they purportedly did not submit documentary proof of citizenship.
The organization added, "this requirement has upended the registration of voters in Kansas, such that nearly 14% of all new registrants in Kansas have been stymied as a result of Defendants’ policies."
Secretary of State Kris Kobach is named as a defendant in the lawsuit. According to the AP, he "contends that since the provisions went into effect Jan. 1, 2013, a total of 244,699 people completed their registrations, accounting for about 94% of all applicants."
In a conversation with the Washington Post back in February, Kobach said that he believes this voting method will protect Kansas from fraud. He's particularly concerned about undocumented Americans voting. "The reason we have to do this is there is a significant problem in Kansas and in the rest of the country of aliens getting on our voting rolls," he said, adding, "with so many close elections in Kansas, having a handful of votes that are cast by aliens can swing an election.”
The ACLU is hoping for a temporary court order that will let people complete their registrations at the DMV without additional identification.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.