The Garden City Telegram

A check of local businesses offering alcohol for sale ended on a sour note.

The sting operation conducted by Garden City police in cooperation with the Kansas Division of Alcohol Beverage Control saw people at 18 local restaurants, stores and other places cited for allegedly furnishing alcohol to minors.

The number of citations surprised even law enforcement officials, and provided a sobering look at how easy it could be for local minors to buy booze.

Underage drinking has been a problem for some time in Finney County. So, it was encouraging a few years back when the county landed a nearly $1 million federal grant designed to see law enforcement, educators, parents, churches, substance abuse prevention agencies and others work together on the problem.

The Finney County Community Health Coalition set out on a plan to bolster existing efforts and create new ways to teach life skills and discourage youngsters from using alcohol.

Research shows youngsters who consume alcohol before the age of 15 are far more likely to have alcohol-related problems throughout life. Immediate issues could range from poor performance in school to more serious outcomes in traffic crashes, teen pregnancies, sexually-transmitted diseases, crime and suicides.

One local strategy to discourage underage consumption involved enlisting Garden City High School students to help educate elementary school-age children. Putting the power of peer groups and positive role models to use in preventing dangerous behavior made sense, and allowed teens to develop leadership skills as they mentored youngsters.

Recent feedback suggested such ventures have made a difference.

Annual Kansas Communities That Care surveys showed the number of local students who reported alcohol use in the previous 30 days declining in the past few years. The same positive trend materialized in regard to students who said they had engaged in binge drinking.

While it’s good to see progress, the recent check of places that sell alcohol proved there’s always more to do in educating people of all ages.

And, why it’s necessary to be vigilant in devoting resources to a problem that, if overlooked, only promises to exact a more costly toll down the line.

Voter snafu

Lawrence Journal-World

This is not the seamless voter registration process the Kansas secretary of state promised to Kansas legislators.

When Kansas legislators were considering a law that would require new Kansas voters to document their citizenship, Secretary of State Kris Kobach assured them that a new computer system being installed by the Division of Motor Vehicles could seamlessly provide citizenship information to county election officials across the state.

Over Kobach’s objections, lawmakers even delayed the start of the proof-of-citizenship requirement for six months to ensure the computer system would be working properly.

Unfortunately, some numbers reported in Monday’s Journal-World confirm that an additional six months — even an additional year — was not sufficient to solve this problem. And thousands of potential Kansas voters are paying the price.

According to the law, which took effect Jan. 1, people are supposed to be able to show proof of citizenship and register to vote when they renew or obtain new drivers licenses through the DMV. Both their registration and citizenship documentation would automatically be sent to the county in which they were registering.

Easy, right? Except that it isn’t working. The DMV says it is sending the documentation to the Secretary of State’s Office, but most of it isn’t finding its way to county election officials. More than 11,000 people — about a third of the applicants statewide who have attempted to use this system since the first of the year — have had their registration applications placed “in suspense” because the counties received the applications but not the proof-of-citizenship documentation.

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said his office had received about 1,000 registration applications so far this year from various sources including walk-ins to the office and the DMV. In spite of the fact that Shew’s staff has actively worked to contact potential voters to verify their citizenship, 370 registration applications are in suspense. Of those, 310 were forwarded from the DMV.

Kobach acknowledged that the DMV system isn’t working as intended but said citizenship documents were being forwarded by email. Shew said that simply is not the case. He estimated that only about 20 percent of the registrations forwarded to his office from the DMV have the proper citizenship verification.

Shew and other county election officials worry about following up on the large number of in-suspense registrations, especially when their business picks up before next year’s general election. Shew said his office typically receives 4,000 to 5,000 new registrations between an August primary and a November general election. He’s included additional money in next year’s budget request to help hire extra staff to follow up on in-suspense voter registration applications.

The state law has no provision for that follow-up, and it’s up to individual counties how vigorously they pursue potential voters. Registrants who don’t provide — in many cases, for the second time — their proof of citizenship to county officials may or may not be eligible to cast even a provisional ballot in the next election.

Whether this is a technical problem or a human problem, this is not the system that Kobach promised to Kansas legislators who approved the citizenship requirement for voter registration, and the ongoing issues leave the secretary of state vulnerable to allegations that the new requirement will suppress rather than encourage voter participation. Legislators must hold Kobach to account for these problems and make sure they are resolved well before the 2014 elections.

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