New Registration Policies Block Many In Kansas From Voting

May 31, 2016
Originally published on June 5, 2016 11:46 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A lot of people take care of registering to vote when they're at the DMV, but in Kansas, thousand of people who did that still found they weren't allowed to vote. That's because of a law that requires proof of citizenship. This month, a federal judge said that law goes too far. Kansas Public Radio's Stephen Koranda has more.

STEPHEN KORANDA, BYLINE: Republican Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is on a mission. He feels strongly about potential voter fraud not just in Kansas but around the country. A few years ago, he pushed for changes here to require a proof of citizenship document for some people registering to vote.

KRIS KOBACH: The consequences of laws being broken in elections are that elections go to the wrong person. Our democracy, our republic is undermined when the elections produce an unfair or a result that's not legitimate.

KORANDA: The requirement means people registering for the first time must show something like a birth certificate or a passport. That makes it tougher for those helping register voters like Bernadette Forge with the League of Women Voters here in Topeka.

BERNADETTE FORGE: We're trying to get away from the feeling upset about these proof of citizenship and try to just look at, here's what has to get done now.

KORANDA: That's why Forge is at this naturalization ceremony where nearly 200 people are becoming U.S. citizens. Volunteers are quick to scan their new documents and register these new citizens to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All good to go.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Good to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right. Thank you very much - appreciate it.

KORANDA: Tad Stricker moved to Wichita, Kan, and registered to vote at the DMV in 2014. It wasn't until he tried to vote that he ran into problems.

TAD STRICKER: I walked in to cast my ballot, and I can't tell you what a shocker it was to find out that my vote wasn't going to be counted.

KORANDA: Marge Ahrens is with the League of Women Voters here. She says the changes pushed by Secretary of State Kobach are keeping some people from the polls.

MARGE AHRENS: To prevent the fraud that he is looking for, he has taken away the rights of, for sure, 20,000 people. It's a terrible trade. It's a loss of the most important privilege in a democracy.

KORANDA: But Secretary Kobach disagrees, saying around 95 percent of people who start the registration process finish it. He says the rules protect voters because an illegal vote cancels out the vote of a Kansas citizen.

KOBACH: And that's real disenfranchisement. That's not the fake disenfranchisement that the League of Women Voters complains about when they say someone is temporarily on a suspense list for a week while they go home and find their birth certificate.

KORANDA: The legal battle will likely continue over voting laws here and in Georgia, Alabama and Arizona, states with similar requirements. A recent ruling will allow thousands of Kansans who find themselves on the suspended list to vote in federal elections, but that's only if the ruling is upheld following what will likely be another legal challenge. For NPR News, I'm Stephen Koranda in Topeka. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.