Kansans Got Wrong Information At DMV Up Until Voter Registration Deadline

Oct 21, 2016

Updated, 10:20 a.m. Monday: The timeline has been updated to include additional documentation from the Secretary of State's Office regarding the language printed on DMV receipts in July.

Despite a court order clearing the way for them to vote this November, Kansans who registered at the Department of Motor Vehicles were still being told they would need to provide proof of citizenship up until an Oct. 18 deadline.

The receipt Melissa Boohar received on Oct. 15, 2016 when she submitted her voter registration application at the DMV in Olathe.
Credit Courtesy of Melissa Boohar

Melissa Boohar just moved to Olathe from the Missouri side. She went to the DMV on Saturday, Oct. 15, to change her voter registration to Kansas.

That night, she noticed something strange on her receipt.

“IF YOU HAVE NOT YET PROVIDED PROOF OF UNITED STATES CITIZENSHIP,” it read, “YOUR APPLICATION WILL ENTITLE YOU TO VOTE FOR FEDERAL OFFICES ONLY.”

Only, Boohar knew that wasn’t the case.

“That had been challenged in court and struck down,” she says. “I had already heard that happened.”

Boohar contacted the League of Women Voters – and decided to swing by the Johnson County election office with her birth certificate, just in case.

The clerk asked Boohar where she’d gotten her application.

“I said, ‘At the DMV.’ She said, ‘Oh, OK, well that was the wrong application.’ Then I said, ‘Well, oh, OK, so if I would have come here, I would have gotten the correct application?’”

According to Boohar, the clerk said no. As late as Monday, the day before voter registration closed in Kansas, the Johnson County election office was only handing out the state form.

It’s the federal form that entitles Kansans to register to vote Nov. 8 without providing a citizenship document.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, the Johnson County Election Board updated its website with the following notice:

"This notice covers persons who have applied to register to vote and have not yet provided proof of citizenship. Due to recent court rulings, if you have applied to register to vote at a Kansas Division of Motor Vehicles office or if you have applied to register to vote using the “Federal Form” voter registration application (as opposed to the standard ‘state form’) and have not yet provided proof of citizenship, you are registered to vote for the November 8, 2016, general election. Your name will appear on the poll book for your voting location and you will be given a standard ballot. There is nothing further you need to provide subject only to further official notice.
 

"If you have questions concerning your eligibility or this notice you may contact your local county election office or the Secretary of State’s office at (800) 262-8683."

Boohar says she’s pretty sure she’s registered to vote now. But she’s not confident she would have been if she hadn’t taken the additional step of contacting her local election authority.

Desiree Taliaferro, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Kris Kobach, concedes Boohar and others who registered to vote over the weekend may have received misleading information on their receipts from the DMV but says the timing of a court order is to blame.

Taliaferro says Judge Julie A. Robinson, who is presiding over the case challenging the proof-of-citizenship rule, didn’t sign off on the language that would appear on the DMV receipts until late afternoon Friday, Oct. 14.  Though the information was forwarded to the Department of Revenue immediately, the change probably wouldn’t have been reflected by the time Boohar visited the Olathe DMV the next morning.

“We acted as quickly and proactively as possible,” Taliaferro says.

The language was not updated in the DMV’s system before the Oct. 18 registration deadline. It went into effect on Oct. 19, the day early voting could begin in Kansas.

ACLU Executive Director Micah Kubic says he’s willing to accept that the wheels of government take some time to turn. But, he says, in this case, there’s no reason why the DMV should’ve been disseminating wrong information on Oct. 15.

After all, Kubic thought the ACLU and the Secretary of State’s office had reached an agreement on the language days earlier, during a joint conference call the first week of October.

“I think we also have to be honest and say if Kobach had followed this court order from the beginning rather than trying to be recalcitrant, then a lot of this confusion would have been avoided,” Kubic says.

THE TIMELINE

  • May 17 – Judge Robinson orders Secretary of State Kobach to register thousands of suspended voters who had initiated registration at the DMV but had not provided proof-of-citizenship documents. Up until this point, voters had been given receipts at the DMV instructing them to provide additional documentation.

“UNLESS YOU ALREADY SUBMITTED TO THE DIVISION OF VEHICLES A DOCUMENT PROVIDING U.S. CITIZENSHIP, YOU NEED TO SUBMIT ONE TO YOUR COUNTY ELECTION OFFICE BEFORE YOU WILL BE ADDED TO THE VOTER REGISTRATION LIST. VISIT WWW.GOTVOTERID.COM FOR A LIST OF ACCEPTABLE DOCUMENTS. IF YOU WERE A REGISTERED VOTER BEFORE 2013 AND ARE STILL REGISTERED, YOU DO NOT NEED TO PROVIDE A CITIZENSHIP DOCUMENT."

  • June 10 – A federal appeals court denies Kobach’s request to block Robinson's ruling. Kobach must register the suspended voters who did not provide citizenship documents so they can vote in the August primaries.
     
  • June 15 – Kobach's office sends revised language to the DMV informing voters that they are not entitled to vote in state or local elections. It urges them to go ahead and submit citizenship documents to be fully registered. 

"IF YOU HAVE NOT YET PROVIDED PROOF OF UNITED STATES CITIZENSHIP, YOUR APPLICATION WILL ENTITLE YOU TO VOTE FOR FEDERAL OFFICES ONLY (I.E. PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES SENATE, UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES).  UNDER KANSAS LAW, YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO VOTE FOR STATE OR LOCAL OFFICES UNTIL ACCEPTABLE PROOF OF CITIZENSHIP HAS BEEN PROVIDED TO YOUR LOCAL COUNTY ELECTION OFFICE.  A LIST OF ACCEPTABLE DOCUMENTS IS AVAILABLE AT WWW.GOTVOTERID.COM.
 
“IF YOU WERE A REGISTERED VOTER IN KANSAS ON JANUARY 1, 2013, THEN YOU DO NOT NEED TO PROVIDE A DOCUMENT PROVING THAT YOU ARE A UNITED STATES CITIZEN.  IF YOU SUBMITTED A DOCUMENT PROVING THAT YOU ARE A UNITED STATES CITIZEN TO THE DIVISION OF MOTOR VEHICLES DURING THIS TRANSACTION, THEN YOU DO NOT NEED TO PROVIDE ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTATION TO COMPLETE YOUR VOTER REGISTRATION.
 
“A NOTICE WILL BE MAILED TO YOU WHEN YOUR VOTER REGISTRATION APPLICATION HAS BEEN PROCESSED. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR APPLICATION, PLEASE CALL YOUR COUNTY ELECTION OFFICE OR THE KANSAS SECRETARY OF STATE AT 1-800-262-8683."

  • July 12 – On the last day to register before the August primary, the day before early voting started, a state board approves a rule proposed by Kobach creating two classes of voters in Kansas: those who register with the state form can vote in all elections, and those who register with the federal form get put on a separate list and are only allowed to vote in federal contests.
     
  • July 29 – Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks blocks the dual-system rule. Voters registered at the DMV are allowed to vote in primaries for local and state offices, as well as federal offices. 
     
  • Aug. 2 – Only 73 voters who had registered at the DMV and were suspended cast ballots in the August primaries, although thousands more were eligible to do so.
     
  • Sept. 23 – The plaintiffs move to enforce the preliminary injunction Robinson issued in May to allow voters to register at the DMV without proof of citizenship. Robinson orders Kobach to appear in person to explain why he shouldn’t be held in contempt.
     
  • Sept. 29 – Kobach and the ACLU sign an agreement saying voters who register at the DMV or otherwise with the federal form can vote in all elections on Nov. 8, 2016. Robinson orders both sides to meet and discuss new language for DMV voter registration receipts. The contempt hearing is canceled. 
     
  • Oct. 5 – During a joint conference call with Robison, the two sides hash out specific language to be used on DMV receipts. 
     
  • Oct. 6 – The ACLU informs Robinson that people still aren’t getting accurate information about their application status when they register to vote at the DMV.
     
  • Oct. 14 – After back-and-forth between the Secretary of State's office and the ACLU (see joint status report), Robinson issues a memorandum instructing Kobach to pass along the following language to the DMV:

“THANK YOU FOR APPLYING TO REGISTER TO VOTE. YOUR VOTER REGISTRATION APPLICATION WILL BE SENT TO YOUR COUNTY ELECTION OFFICE FOR PROCESSING. YOU WILL BE DEEMED FULLY REGISTERED AND ELIGIBLE TO VOTE FOR ALL OFFICES – FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL—WHETHER OR NOT YOU PROVIDED A DOCUMENT DEMONSTRATING UNITED STATES CITIZENSHIP. YOU DO NOT NEED TO PROVIDE ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTS TO COMPLETE YOUR VOTER REGISTRATION SUBJECT ONLY TO FURTHER OFFICIAL NOTICE.
 

“A NOTICE WILL BE MAILED TO YOU WHEN YOUR VOTER REGISTRATION APPLICATION HAS BEEN PROCESSED. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR APPLICATION, PLEASE CALL YOUR COUNTY ELECTION OFFICE OR THE KANSAS SECRETARY OF STATE AT 1-800-262-8683.”

  • Oct. 15 – Olathe resident Melissa Boohar registers to vote at the DMV. She receives a receipt saying she will need to provide proof of citizenship to vote in state and local elections.
     
  • Oct. 17 – Would-be voters contact the ACLU to say the Johnson County Election Office is still only providing the state form to register to vote. The state form requires proof of citizenship; the federal form does not.
     
  • Oct. 18 – The last day to register to vote in Kansas before the Nov. 8 election.
  • Oct. 19 – Early voting begins in parts of Kansas. The DMV begins issuing voter registration application receipts with the correct language.

Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR, which is a partner in a statewide collaboration covering elections in Kansas. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.