Kobach enforcing debated voter registration rule

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\WICHITA, Kan. – There’s new information coming out for Kansans who want to register to vote for the first time.

At issue is citizenship, and whether you’ll need to prove you’re legally a citizen before you can register.

The issue has created a debate that’s put Kansas at odds with the federal government and left Kansas residents with questions.  It’s also put different rules in place for which elections – federal or state – Kansans can vote in.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says he’s enforcing the citizenship rule.  He’s sent a new set of instructions to county election officers, telling them everyone wanting to register to vote must prove their citizenship.

Tabitha Lehman is the Sedgwick County election commissioner.

“The Secretary of State’s Office sent direction down to the counties in how to handle the federal forms moving forward, and that’s what we will follow,” said Lehman.

The debate that’s been going on for years between Kansas and federal officials started after Kansas required first-time voters to prove their citizenship back in 2013.  That requirement has left voters with two possibilities at the polls.

Those who’ve proven their citizenship can vote in all local, state and federal elections.  But those who have not can only vote in federal elections since the U.S. government does not require proof of citizenship for voters.

‘Up to this point, the federal form, the federal voter registration form hasn’t had the instructions about Kansas’ requirement to have proof of citizenship submitted with your registration,” said Lehman.

In January, a Shawnee County judge ruled that Kobach has no legal right to bar people who register to vote using a federal voter registration form from voting in local and state elections.  But, just weeks later, the director of the Federal Election Assistance Commission said Kansas and two other states can require proof for federal voter registration forms.

While the legal battle likely is not over for now, what does that mean for Kansas voters?

“That you have to provide proof of citizenship documents, the list of documents, and then talks about Kansas’ requirement, the regulation about if you don’t provide those documents within 90 days then your registration will be canceled,” said Lehman.

Lehman says those who submit a voter registration form without proof of citizenship will be sent three notices to prove they’re a U.S. citizen or the form won’t be recognized.

Those who don’t provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote will be entered into the computer system as “suspense.”  For those already designated as “suspense” voters because they used the federal form Kobach’s office says it will work with each county on ways to reach those applicants and find acceptable forms of citizenship.

They hope to have all the records in the category resolved by the August 2nd primary.

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