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Voting Advocates Ask For Election Day Voter Registration In Kansas

Stephen Koranda
Kansas Public Radio
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew speaks before the Senate's elections committee.

Kansas would do away with the current voter registration deadlines under a bill in the Legislature.

Voting advocates asked Kansas lawmakers Tuesday to support Election Day registration. The current deadline to register to vote creates difficulty for some people, said Luis Estrada, with the advocacy group El Centro.

“It’s mostly youth and elderly, because of mobility,” he said. “People disenfranchised that don’t often come across this kind of information.”

Under current law, would-be voters must register 21 days before an election.

Supporters of the proposal told lawmakers that same-day registration helped boost voter turnout in other states.

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said voters in his county frequently run into registration issues. The county is home to Lawrence and the University of Kansas.

It’s often related to people moving to the county who don’t know they need to register to vote again.

“It’s huge for us, as we’re a very transitory population,” Shew said in an interview. “It’s not just the university. My population’s constantly moving out and about.”

Almost half the provisional ballots that are thrown out in Douglas County are people who try to vote but are registered in other Kansas counties. If the bill became law, those people could re-register at the polls and have their votes counted.

The bill likely faces an uphill battle. Republicans, who control the Legislature, haven’t shown much interest in loosening voting rules in recent years.

Republican Secretary of State Scott Schwab and his staff have urged lawmakers not to make any major changes to state voting laws.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Katie Koupal didn't directly oppose the bill, but she asked the Senate elections committee to hold off so local election staff could be properly trained on current law.

“Although this proposal has benefits, equal concerns exist with the impact it may have on election security, county election officials and the Kansas electorate,” she wrote in testimony.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.