Kansas strikes deal to bring state into compliance with federal voter registration law

Agreement to avoid litigation delivers information to people on public assistance

By: - October 1, 2021 1:32 pm
The administration of Gov. Laura Kelly reached agreement with a coalition of advocacy groups to bring state agencies into compliance with federal law requiring people on public assistance receive voter registration information. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

The administration of Gov. Laura Kelly reached agreement with a coalition of advocacy groups to bring state agencies into compliance with federal law requiring people on public assistance receive voter registration information. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The administration of Gov. Laura Kelly reached agreement with a coalition of civil rights organizations to provide additional voter registration information to people on public assistance and bring the state into compliance with the National Voter Registration Act.

Coalition members argued gubernatorial administration’s prior to Kelly allowed state agencies to abandon obligations under the federal law adopted nearly 30 years ago.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families as well as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, which were at the forefront of the compliance failure, moved to broaden opportunities for individuals to get their hands on information about voter registration.

DCF and KDHE sent about 277,000 voter registration mailings prior to the November 2020 general election.

“It’s unfortunate and, frankly, unacceptable that Kansas fell out of compliance previously, but we appreciate the current leadership’s cooperation to remedy our concerns and take concrete steps towards fulfilling their obligations to help Kansans register to vote,” said Sharon Brett, the ACLU of Kansas’ legal director.

Other organizations involved in the effort to bring the state include compliance included the ACLU’s national Voting Rights Project and the New York think tank Demos, which is affiliated with Loud Light. Demos is involved in litigation and research to bring about a more inclusive and multiracial democracy, while Loud Light strives to expand civic participation in Kansas.

On Friday, Kelly said the state’s obligation under federal law was to provide every lawfully eligible Kansan an equal opportunity to case a ballot in elections.

“By sharing resources and expanding opportunities to get registered to vote, we will encourage more voices to be heard at the polls and more Kansans to exercise this important right,” the governor said.

The coalition began discussing with the Kelly administration in November 2019 Kansas’ deficiencies in relation to sharing of voter registration materials with people on public assistance. One objective was to avoid litigation related to shortcomings at state agencies involved with administration of welfare programs.

A written agreement valid through June 30, 2025, between the state and the advocacy groups required updating of agency policy and incorporation of voter registration information in benefits material. In addition, the state agreed to provide registration information and applications at state agency offices and on websites of those agencies.

Brenda Wright, interim director of legal strategies at Demos, said residents of Kansas would be beneficiaries of the revised approach to the federal law.

“We will continue to work with the state to maintain a seamless registration process for its residents,” she said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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