Sunday, March 30, 2014

Out of Our League

On Thursday night, I provided an update on 2014 election administration issues to the Olathe Republican Club.

One item of interest involves the 4,000 plus voters we have right now with incomplete registrations.  Many of the incompletes stem from, well, an incomplete application--missing signature, oval filled, etc.

Some of the incompletes are registrants who aren't yet 18--once they reach their 18th birthday we will make these voters active.

A majority of the incompletes, though, are registrants without accompanying proof of citizenship.

I've explained some of the dynamics of that here before, but the context with this post is with an item I raised in association with this list during the meeting.

The Johnson County League of Women Voters has a long history of attending new citizenship naturalization ceremonies and registering these new citizens to vote.

They wave flags together, celebrate the United States, and instruct these new citizens on how to exercise their new right to vote.

Problem was, with the new citizenship verification requirements that went into effect in 2013, these new registrations needed accompanying copies of the naturalization certificate.

The League didn't know this, thinking the naturalization number was sufficient.  So, in trying to do a good thing, each month the local League chapter was adding to our list of voters in incomplete registration status.

We send each voter a letter to follow-up, and anecdotally this group of voters is more responsive than those typically on the list, but there had to be a better way, we thought.

We met with the League and offered to provide them with an iPad that they could use to photograph the naturalization forms and bring back to us with the registrations.

All involved cheered.  We applauded ourselves at our ingenuity.  The Olathe Republican Club members, hearing this Thursday, glowed admirably.

Whatever the opposite of rolling over in a grave is, Steve Jobs did it!

We've been working this way for a few months now and then, Friday, the very day after mentioning this and sharing the warm glowy feeling at the Olathe club, the League's woman on the street was thwarted by an immigration official, who forbid her from photographing the naturalization forms.

She was very upset as she dropped off the unused iPad and about 75 registrations.  She was so upset that she said she would follow up with me this coming week, wanting to chill some before talking about it.

I hope to hear more.

Specifically, I'm hoping she has a name and number of the immigration official.  Better, I want to know what an immigration official actually is.  Is that a staffer, or an officer ready to handcuff offenders?

I ask this because I'm an election official, but I don't have the authority to enforce election laws (except for electioneering and enforcing in that case is removing signs too close to a polling place or telling someone to stop electioneering or else I will say "stop" a second time in a slightly more stern voice).

Any law enforcement is done by law enforcement agencies--district attorney, sheriff, or police.  I can't detain someone, for instance, if I observe what I believe to be an election crime.

Is that we what were up against there?  Was it an immigration officer who would have detained the League of Women Voters representative if she had the gall to assist these registrants become legally registered voters?

Kansas law specifically allows for electronic capture and transmission of citizenship verification and further requires that election officials protect the integrity of the documents.  We check the iPad out, upload the images when it is returned, and wipe it before sending it back out.

If this is as simple as an immigration official needing to see a duly authorized election official taking the photos, we'll start sending someone.  It feels like, at this point, that someone overstepped.  Maybe we'll find out we were the over-steppers, but I don't think we were.

The argument that was given was that it was illegal to photograph the document.  In actuality, the certificates have various wording, but often say that it is illegal to copy or print the document with lawful authority.

You can see for yourself by doing an Internet Search for "naturalization certificate" images and seeing how well enforced this law is.

The Kansas Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) Act provides our office lawful authority--at least state authority--to make copies for the purpose of attaching them to voters' registrations.

Regardless, I'm not sure any certificates say that immigration officials will intervene and prevent the photographing, copying, or printing.

Naturally, I'm rather bummed about this.  This is the Year of the Voter, after all, so I actually believe I need to be a little outraged.  Or, at the least, I need a better understanding of the exact person who intervened and that person's authority to do so.

When our League envoy's blood pressure chills, she'll be back, and I will report with more details when I have them.