America’s struggle for voting rights continues. In the 2014 election, new voting restrictions were in place in 21 states — 14 for the first time in a federal election. These laws ranged from voter ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration limits. In this new series — Voting 2014: Stories from the States — the Brennan Center is collecting stories of citizens who have been unfairly impacted by these new restrictions. Click here to see the entire series.
In 2011, Kansas instituted a strict photo ID rule and a harsh documentary proof of citizenship requirement for those registering to vote. Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), who had just won election, strongly backed the measure after making it a priority in his campaign. He based his support on hotly disputed claims of illegal voting. The photo ID requirement went into effect in 2012 and the proof of citizenship law was implemented in 2013.
The proof of citizenship law, which requires those registering to vote to produce a document showing citizenship — such as a birth certificate or passport — has stymied the efforts of community-based organizations to conduct voter registration drives. In part for this reason, the League of Women Voters, represented by the Brennan Center and co-counsel, joined a lawsuit arguing that proof of citizenship should not be required for those using the federal voter registration form. On November 7, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the League, meaning those using the federal form will not need to show their papers to vote in federal elections.
Nevertheless, the requirement remains in place for registrants using the state form, as it did in the lead up to the 2014 election — and voter registration suffered as a result. For example, the League of Women Voters of Kansas recently estimated that the law had reduced its registration drive efforts by 75 percent. Dolores Furtado, president of the Kansas League, said that registration is often impossible because “people just don’t have those documents with them.” Many local Leagues ceased registering voters entirely, and others limited their efforts to naturalization ceremonies, where new citizens would have documentation on hand. In other cases, League members could successfully register only those voters with address changes, who do not need to show proof of citizenship.
The requirement also blocked many voters who attempted to register but did not have citizenship documents on hand. In mid-October, more than 24,000 voter registrations were “in suspense” because of incomplete registrations. One analysis found younger individuals and those with lower incomes were more likely to be in suspense than others. The only way these Kansans could vote is if they showed up before Election Day to produce their documents — they could not complete their registrations at the polls. Evidence shows very few did so. A list of suspended registrations released after the election showed more than 20,000 registrations remained in suspense — meaning tens of thousands of Kansans who attempted to register were blocked.
Huge numbers remain on the suspense list, even though the secretary cross-referenced registrations with the state birth certificate database to get some off the list — and despite League members’ attempts to help. “The League has worked hard,” said Furtado. “We have made phone calls, and we’ve even gone to people’s houses to try to help them deal with the documentary requirements. But there are still thousands of people on the suspense list.”
Nearly 500 Voters … and Counting … Blocked at the Polls
Preliminary tallies show examples of many voters who struggled to make their voices heard on Election Day — and some who were not able to vote at all.
One 94-year-old woman who has been voting since she was 21, for example, was able to cast a ballot only after she made one trip to the polls, three trips to the bank to get the documents she needed for an ID, another trip to get her ID, and one more to the clerk’s office. And on Election Day, a hotline run by voter protection groups heard from several would-be voters who showed up to the polls to find their names missing from the registration list.
According to early data from provisional ballot canvassing, hundreds of Kansans tried to cast ballots but were unable to do so because of the new ID and documentary requirements. The damage done by these laws goes well beyond the number of provisional ballots cast. Would-be registrants on the suspense list could not vote even if they showed up on Election Day with citizenship documents, so many may have not have come to the polling place at all, or left without casting a provisional ballot. Similarly, those lacking ID may have stayed home or left without voting provisionally.
Even so, while only a handful of Kansas’s 105 counties have released provisional ballot details, information reported by advocates, media outlets, and counties shows examples of nearly 500 votes being blocked. More data is expected from advocates who monitored county election canvasses and other sources.
The League of Women Voters reported to the Brennan Center that in Johnson County, 133 votes were blocked by the proof of citizenship requirement and 47 were not counted because of lack of photo ID. In Sedgwick County, 97 were rejected because of proof of citizenship and 33 for lack of ID. And in Douglas County, the proof of citizenship and photo ID requirements blocked 26 and 13 voters, respectively.
Smaller counties reported numbers of blocked votes that were substantial given the size of the jurisdictions. In Reno County, 24 ballots were rejected for lack of proof of citizenship and 8 for ID. In Riley County, the blocked votes were 11 and 2. Leavenworth County reported 6 votes rejected for lack of proof of citizenship. And other counties, while not breaking down their counts, also rejected ballots because of these requirements, including Shawnee (68 rejected for either proof of citizenship or ID) and Salina (“a lot of nonproof of citizenship”).
Again, given the thousands of voters still in suspense, these blocked voters likely represent the tip of the iceberg. Voters who wish to participate but cannot produce documentary proof of citizenship or photo ID remain at risk. Voters without access to ID or proof of citizenship may not have showed up at all, or left without casting provisional ballots.