By John Celock
Kansas officials voted unanimously Wednesday morning to say that a 92-year-old woman without a birth certificate has provided the documentation to be allowed to register to vote in the state.
The state Elections Board confirmed that Evelyn Howard, who recently moved to Kansas is a United States citizen and meets the criteria to register to vote in the state. Under state law, pushed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), those seeking to register to vote in the state need to provide proof of citizenship including a birth certificate. The law has proven controversial, with Democrats, arguing that those born at home would not be able to provide a birth certificate, or it would be difficult to obtain the documentation.
The Elections Board consisted of Kobach, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) and Attorney General Derek Schmidt (R). The board was relaying on documentation provided by Howard and her daughter, Marilyn Hopkins, along with research conducted by Kobach’s office.
“She has always voted and she feels it is a responsibility and duty she has. Now that she is Kansas this is her first opportunity,” Howard said during the hearing. “We find out she cannot vote because she does not have a birth certificate. She has lived in the United States all her life, she’s from Minnesota.”
Caleb Crook, an attorney in the secretary of state’s office, worked with Howard and Hopkins to document Howard’s citizenship. Among the documents submitted to the board included a family bible register of births which included Howard’s birth in 1922 and that it occurred in Schilling, Minn., along with Census records that show Howard having lived in Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri her entire life.
Crook also contacted Minnesota officials who confirmed that there was no birth certificate on file for Howard, who was born at home. Crook’s research did find a birth certificate for Howard’s younger brother for 1924, which showed he was born in Minnesota. Howard also provided a family history and her daughter’s birth certificate, which noted that Howard was born in Minnesota. Howard confirmed that she did not know of a birth certificate ever being issued by Minnesota officials.
“I don’t think so,” she said of the birth certificate. “Not that I ever know of.”
Schmidt said that under the state’s voter registration law, the state can accept a passport as proof of citizenship. He explained that in this case, Kobach’s office used the guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of State on what documentation is needed to issue a passport to a U.S. citizen without a birth certificate. Schmidt explained the State Department would look for records consistent with the applicant’s time line, including a family bible with a birth register and Census records, along with a government agency saying that no birth certificate exists and a notarized letter confirming the person was born in the United States and is who they say they are. He said the information found by Kobach’s office is consistent with the passport rules and would work under Kansas law.
Census records did list Missouri as Howard’s birthplace at one point, but Schmidt noted that he believed the Census worker who filled out the information listed all the Missouri residents on the document as being born in the state. He noted it was likely not everyone on the list had been born in Missouri.
The proof of citizenship law has proven controversial in the state, with Democrats aiming their anger at Kobach and the Republican-controlled Legislature for passing the law. Opponents have argued that it is a way to disenfranchise voters and make it harder to vote. Among the arguments made by opponents of the law is that those who were born without birth certificates would not be able to register and that women would have a tougher time to register due to having to provide additional proof in the event of a name change after marriage.
The state has had 20,000 voter registrations put into a file waiting for additional proof. Kobach has said that election officials are working with those voters to provide proof of citizenship in order to register. Under the law, birth certificates need to be provided by local officials free of charge.
The proof of citizenship law is becoming a top issue in the race between Kobach and his Democratic challenger, former state Sen. Jean Schodorf. Kansas Democratic Party spokesman Dakota Loomis told The Celock Report that Kobach needs to focus on cases likes Howard’s.
“I suggest that his office start doing the same thing to work with the other 20,000 people he is blocking. I’m guessing many share the same story as this woman,” Loomis said. “This is because of complications presented by Kris Kobach to the citizens of the US. He has 70 days, if he does a couple hundred a day, maybe we can make it.”
The state GOP hailed the Elections Board’s decision, noting that the board is showing how the law is supposed to work.
“The system is working as intended,” Kansas Republican Party executive director Clayton Barker told The Celock Report. “Individuals with special circumstances that fall outside the law’s acceptable evidence for proof of citizenship can present their circumstances and be allowed to register.