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State Panel Says Kansas Woman Can Vote, Despite Lack Of Citizenship Document

Stephen Koranda
Jo French speaking during the election board meeting.

The State Election Board on Monday decided that an Osage County woman is a citizen and will be able to vote, despite the fact that she doesn’t have a document proving it.

Kansas law requires people registering to vote for the first time in the state to prove their U.S. citizenship with a document such as a birth certificate.

Jo French used a process that allows a state panel to certify a would-be voter's citizenship using other evidence. French was born in Arkansas in 1941, but that state doesn’t have a record or her birth. The panel considered census and school records before certifying that French meets the requirement.

After the Election Board meeting, French was of two minds about the situation. On one hand, she finds the requirement perplexing.

“I’ve been here all of my life. I just couldn’t imagine having to go through this procedure to prove I live here and I can vote,” French says.

However, French says she also supports Kansas enforcing its voter citizenship requirement and wishes more states would do the same.

“There has to be a strict, thin line to make sure that people are following the laws,” French says.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach says this process can help Kansans stuck in the state's voter registration rules.

“We put a safety net in just for the very rare case of an individual who, for some reason, isn’t able to get a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship,” Kobach says.

He says the certification of citizenship document the panel will provide can also be used for other purposes, such as getting a U.S. passport.

Mark Johnson, an attorney involved in legal challenges to some of Kobach’s policies, says the process is too complicated and most suspended voters give up instead of pursuing it. He points out that there are thousands of would-be voters suspended for not turning in a citizenship document, but this process has only been used four times.

“It’s a ridiculous amount of effort for a person to go through,” Johnson says.

Stephen Koranda is the managing editor of the Kansas News Service, based at KCUR. He has nearly 20 years of experience in public media as a reporter and editor.