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Some Kansas counties expect to need weeks to winnow out aging, incomplete voter registrations


TOPEKA, Kansas — Some Kansas counties expect to take at least several weeks to cancel incomplete voter registrations from residents who haven't documented their U.S. citizenship, local election officials said Monday.

Local officials also said even when they're done culling the more than 31,000 records as required under a new rule from Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the canceled registrations still will be accessible in their voter registration databases. Kobach has directed counties to cancel incomplete registrations older than 90 days, with most from prospective voters who haven't met the proof-of-citizenship requirement.

A 2013 state law requires new voters to produce a birth certificate, passport or other citizenship papers when registering. Kansas is only one of four states with such a law, and its incomplete registrations ballooned to nearly 37,700 last week.

In Sedgwick County, Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said her staff is first reviewing the records of 1,700 people who appear to have Kansas birth certificates on file with the state health department. The possible matches came from Kobach's office, which checks incomplete registrations against birth records monthly.

Lehman said the checking should take a week before her staff begins reviewing other incomplete registrations to see how many should be canceled. Sedgwick County had 8,400 incomplete registrations — the most of any county — and about 7,000 older than 90 days.

"This is not something that is going to quickly get done," she said.

Kobach, a conservative Republican former law professor, persuaded the GOP-dominated Legislature to enact the proof-of-citizenship requirement, which he says will prevent election fraud by noncitizens. Critics contend it suppresses turnout, and Kobach faces a federal lawsuit challenging both the law and his directive to counties to cull registration records.

The secretary of state said he's not surprised some of the state's 105 counties need weeks to review and cancel incomplete registrations, particularly populous ones. He said his "reasonable time limit" keeps them from having to keep calling or sending notices by mail to people who've moved or have no interest in completing their registrations.

Kobach said the fact that counties mark such records as canceled without deleting them permanently shows there's no irreparable harm in the process.

"The critics of our proof-of-citizenship system have completely overblown what's happening," he said.

But Doug Bonney, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said he sees no problem with allowing registrations to remain incomplete, particularly when counties need weeks to finish canceling them anyway. Also, he said, some prospective voters' constitutional right to equal protection under the law could be violated because counties are handling the incomplete registrations uniformly.

"All of these people are citizens," he said. "It's just ridiculous."

In Norton County in northwest Kansas, elected Clerk Robert Wyatt, a Republican, said his office should finish canceling aging, incomplete voter registrations by noon Tuesday. But he noted it had fewer than three dozen registrations affected by Kobach's directive.

In Finney County in southwest Kansas, Deputy Clerk Anita Garcia said more than 470 people with registrations incomplete for more than 90 days still will have a couple of weeks to provide citizenship papers.

"I want to give them plenty of opportunities," she said.

In Logan County, also in northwest Kansas, Clerk Crystal Rucker said she's likely to allow "some time" for the only resident still listed as having an incomplete registration to provide citizenship papers. The phone number for him in the voter registration record was no longer in service Monday.

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