This week, a 92-year-old Johnson County woman had her voter registration approved by the Kansas State Election Board. A law that took effect last year says people who register for the first time in Kansas must provide proof of citizenship. Her voter registration was initially put on hold because she doesn't have any of the required documents. As KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports, this situation illustrates a political divide over the law. Some people say it’s a hindrance, others say it secures elections and has protections built in for Kansans who don’t have the documents.
At issue was the case of Evelyn Howard, born in 1922.
“Can you hear me Miss Howard?” “Yes, yes I can.”
That’s Secretary of State Kris Kobach speaking to Evelyn Howard. She appeared by phone, and her daughter, Marilyn Hopkins, explained her situation.
“She has always voted, she feels like that’s a responsibility and a duty that she has,” says Hopkins.
But things changed when Evelyn moved from Missouri to Lenexa, Kansas last year.
“And now that she has moved to Kansas, we find out she cannot vote because she doesn’t have a birth certificate,” says Hopkins.
Evelyn was delivered by a midwife 92 years ago in Minnesota, and there was never a birth certificate issued. Her daughter Marilyn wrote a letter to the secretary of state’s office, and helped organize documents like a family Bible listing when and where she was born. After considering the matter, the Election Board said Evelyn had met the requirements and her registration would be approved. The Democrat running for Kansas secretary of state, Jean Schodorf, says this scenario shows that the state’s proof-of-citizenship law is a hindrance.
“It really is above and beyond. All of that work that the daughter had to do is outrageous,” says Schodorf.
Schodorf says other people in a similar situation to Evelyn Howard may not have a family member who’s able to help them track down documents. She believes the secretary of state’s office needs to review the nearly 20,000 voters registrations that are on hold because they lack citizenship documents.
“Because he would find that there are a lot of reasons that people have and a lot of difficulties that they are going through,” says Schodorf.
Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach pushed for the proof-of-citizenship law because he says it can help prevent voter fraud. After the hearing, he said the vast majority of people have a citizenship document like a birth certificate or a passport. He says there have been two other hearings like this involving people who didn’t have documents. In both cases, they were approved.
“While it does involve digging around and providing some information, we’ve given the person a certification that’s not only useful for voting but for other purposes,” says Kobach.
Kobach says the hearing process allows people without the required documents a chance to clear up the situation.There are thousands of Kansans with voter registrations on hold, but Kobach says situations like Evelyn Howard’s aren’t very common. Only three people so far have requested hearings like this.
“Any one of them can request it and so far none have other than this lady in this last cycle. In the information that goes to them, this option is listed for them,” says Kobach.
It’s not clear how many voter registrations will still be on hold when the November election rolls around. What is clear is that this proof-of citizenship issue will likely remain closely watched in this campaign.