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Voter abstains to protest ID law

News editor

For more than 30 federal and Kansas elections, Jane Johnson of Marion has voted. This Nov. 4, she won’t.

It’s a matter of conflicting principles for Johnson, who has been caught up along with thousands of other Kansans in the problems created by a change in voter registration, namely, the requirement to provide proof of citizenship to register.

“My family has been here for 150 years, I’ve been voting since I was 18, I was registered, I’ve never missed an election, and I’ve taken my voting responsibilities very seriously,” Johnson said. “Now I have to prove I’m a citizen? That’s ridiculous.”

Marion County Clerk Tina Spencer said 73 voters in the county have incomplete registrations due to the proof of citizenship requirement. Statewide, 20,000 voters are registered but can’t vote, League of Women Voters Sedgwick County co-president Sharon Ailslieger said.

Johnson, a Marion County Record employee, slipped through the cracks because of events that transpired after moving from Wichita to Marion in January.

“In March or April I got a postcard from the Sedgwick County election office asking if I moved, so I filled it out,” Johnson said. “I thought it was odd, but I decided to be honest.”

Uncertain when she first moved to Marion if she would be staying, Johnson waited until June to change her car registration. When she did, she also checked the box for voter registration.

“I checked the box to change my address for voting,” Johnson said. “I thought the drivers license thing would automatically transfer over.”

Unknown to Johnson, Sedgwick County dropped her from their registered voters list when they received her change of address. There was nothing to transfer.

Johnson cast a provisional ballot in the August primary election, because she didn’t show up as a registered Marion County voter. She found out why the following week while conducting routine business at the county clerk’s office. Election clerk Tena Lundgren broke the news to her.

“She said we need to see your birth certificate,” Johnson said. “Tina Spencer came around the corner and introduced herself, and said they were going to have to throw out my ballot.”

Spencer explained what other documents could be used to prove citizenship, Johnson said, but that was asking too much.

“I said, ‘I don’t have any of those, and I don’t think I should have to show them,’” Johnson said.

Johnson said she was given a form to request a free copy of her birth certificate for registration purposes, but she balked at the idea.

“I just don’t think I should have to do that,” Johnson said.

Johnson sought assistance from the secretary of state’s office via phone, and by talking with office representatives at the state fair in Hutchinson.

“They said, ‘You sound like one of those people who fell through the cracks — it’s a glitch in the law that we’re aware of,’” Johnson said. “They said they’d look into it for me.”

They did, Johnson said, and the only assistance they offered was to help her obtain a birth certificate.

“I really thought they’d clear me,” Johnson said. “I thought they’d go the extra mile and grandfather me in. They know it’s just a glitch.”

Johnson didn’t know until last week that she “fell through the cracks” several more times.

The secretary of state’s office checks the suspended registrations list against Kansas birth and marriage records monthly, secretary of state director of public affairs Kay Curtis said. Names on the list that match birth certificates on file are forwarded to the appropriate county clerks, who can use that information to validate and complete registrations.

Even though Johnson was born in Kansas and has had an incomplete registration on file since July, she hasn’t turned up in the system.

“I should have been caught by the other program,” Johnson said. “No one from the county clerk or secretary of state’s offices said anything to me about that. No one offered that was a possibility.”

Johnson found her birth certificate last week, and state law allows her to show it to the county clerk before the election and vote, Curtis said. Instead, Johnson is going to sit this one out in protest.

“It’s just the principle of the thing,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what the percentage is, but a great number of people don’t vote and don’t care, and now I’m in the majority.”

While Johnson has been frustrated dealing with the county clerk and secretary of state offices, she believes the main problem is the voter registration law.

“I would like to see reform of that law,” Johnson said. “It’s hurting people, it’s making less people being able to vote. It’s kicking people off that are U.S. citizens and good voters.”

Last modified Oct. 22, 2014

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