WICHITA (AP) — Kansas election officials threw out thousands of uncounted provisional ballots cast in November, mostly because the state had no record that those residents were registered voters.
Some local election officials are now voicing concerns about instances of lost registrations from people who filled out applications on Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s online site and at motor vehicle offices, but whose names never showed up on poll books, voter rolls or even a list of people whose applications weren’t complete. Some voters had date-stamped, computer screenshots showing they successfully completed their voter registration.
Kobach’s office said in an emailed statement there was a technical problem with the computer system that handles voter registrations for the motor vehicle department, and that it is the office’s understanding that the problem was corrected within a few days of its discovery in October. Kobach’s office then instructed county election officers to accept any paper printout of an applicant’s computer screen as proof that the person timely completed the registration form.
What troubles local election officials is an increasing number of people in the last two election cycles who say their voter registration applications were completed online or at driver’s license offices, but whose names never made it to county election offices to be added to local voter rolls. The extent of that problem is unknown. Douglas County was the only county AP found that specifically tracked provisional ballots cast by people in November who claimed their registrations were lost.
Kobach’s office has not yet compiled a statewide count of how many provisional ballots were discarded. Numbers that The Associated Press obtained from county election offices and the League of Women Voters for the state’s 11 largest counties show that 8,864 ballots cast were not counted, slightly more than 1 percent of votes cast in those counties. The reasons include lack of proper identification at polls, not providing proof of citizenship at registration, and not signing or filling out the advance ballot envelope correctly. More than half of ballots were tossed out because there was no record the person was a registered voter.
Among those who say their registration was lost is Gail Sims Holland. She registered during the summer using her passport as proof of U.S. citizenship when she and her husband got their drivers’ licenses after moving to Kansas. Her husband soon received notification of his polling site, but officials had no record that the 50-year-old Viola woman had even tried to register to vote. She again filled out the application, this time on the secretary of state’s website. Again her registration got lost.
“I was calling back quite a bit to say, ‘Look this is my right to vote and I really want to vote.’ And they kept saying, ‘You should get it in a couple of days’ or ‘You should have gotten it by now,’ and I am like, ‘Look I need a confirmation,’” Holland said.
The Sedgwick County election office allowed her to register again after the cutoff date for the November election because she had a copy of the voter registration confirmation.
“If I didn’t keep a copy from my computer I wouldn’t have been able to show that I had done it,” Holland said.
After Douglas County election officials noticed an increase of people in that same situation, County Clerk Jamie Shew decided to track those cases in November. If people said they registered online or at motor vehicle offices but their names weren’t in registration records, Shew had poll workers mark the outside of the envelopes used to seal provisional ballots.
Douglas County documented 52 instances of lost registrations in which election officials determined the person had completed their registration in time. Because voters could prove they had registered, their ballots were counted. An additional 92 ballots from people who insisted they had registered but who didn’t have proof were tossed. Four ballots from voters who likely voted in a wrong precinct were partially counted.
“I really wanted to track it down because it appears over the past few years increasingly we are having difficulties getting registrations done online or at the DMV,” Shew said.
All told, Douglas County discarded 710 ballots for various reasons. Johnson County, the state’s most populous county, trashed 2,873 ballots. Sedgwick County threw out 2,194.
Connor William Bobb, a student at Kansas State University who filled out his registration at the secretary of state’s website, found out later that he wasn’t registered. Sedgwick County election office counted his ballot because he had printed out the confirmation.
Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said Wednesday that her office has still not received the registrations that Holland and Bobb submitted online.
“It did seem we had some hiccups on that online registration process,” Lehman said.