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Critics And Supporters Sound Off On Proposed Kansas Voter Registration Rule

Stephen Koranda
Doug Bonney of ACLU of Kansas says a new proposal to cancel incomplete voter registrations after 90 days oversteps bounds.

More than 30,000 people in Kansas have tried to register to vote, but their applications remain incomplete. In most cases, these would-be voters have failed to provide proof of citizenship.

Republican Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has proposed that all incomplete voter registrations be cancelled after 90 days. Today, opponents and supporters of that plan voiced their concerns in a public hearing.

A number of people lined up to criticize the plan, saying it’s a roadblock being put in front of Kansans who want to vote. Sonja Willms says she believes there’s a motive to try to stop some minority groups from voting, because they probably don’t share Kobach’s political party.

“I don’t want to use the word ‘conspiracy,’ but it feels like a conspiracy theory to keep people from voting that probably are Democratic,” Willms says.

But Craig McCullah, with the secretary of state’s office, says this is about saving money for county governments. It would prevent counties from indefinitely trying to contact would-be voters with incomplete registrations.

“We don’t want to block anyone from voting, that’s not the attempt here. The goal is to manage elections in the most efficient way possible,” McCullah says.

Doug Bonney, with the ACLU of Kansas, says Kobach is overstepping his bounds with the proposal. Bonney says Kobach only has the authority to implement the state’s voter citizenship law and says he can’t create additional requirements.

“There’s nothing in Kansas law that says voters who want to register only have 90 days to complete their registration applications, and so he’s making this up out of whole cloth,” Bonney says.

Credit Stephen Koranda
Shawnee County Election Commissioner Andrew Howell is in favor of the plan.

Shawnee County Election Commissioner Andrew Howell spoke in favor of the plan. He says it gives would-be voters time to turn in their documents, but it will save county governments money because they won’t have to continually try to contact people with incomplete registrations.

“We spend a great deal of time sending out letters to voters making sure they understand the very specific and explicit details," Howell says. "Frankly, we do get phone calls from people saying we really don’t wish to be contacted by you, we never intended to sign up as a voter in the first place."

Opponents of the proposal, including the NAACP and League of Women Voters, say it can take more than 90 days to get the documents needed to register to vote. They argue the 90-day rule would be a roadblock to voting for some Kansans.

Shawnee County resident Jack Sossoman was the only other supporter of the rule speaking at the hearing. He says the proposal is part of a larger system in Kansas to ensure only citizens are voting.

Kobach will now consider the public comments before deciding whether to issue the rule, modify it or withdraw the proposal.