The below script comes from a press conference held in Wichita, Kansas. 

Melissa Stiehler

I’m Melissa Stiehler, the Senior Organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas. We are a non-partisan, non-profit membership organization dedicated to preserving and strengthening the constitutional liberties afforded to every resident of Kansas.  We work to protect our constitutional rights and freedoms through policy advocacy, litigation, and education.  We proudly serve nearly 20,000 supporters in Kansas and represent more than 1.7 million supporters nationwide.

We’re here today as a service to the voters of Wichita. For more than a year, our supporters have been trying to discuss Election Day Registration with Senate President Susan Wagle only to have every call, email, letter, and meeting request ignored. When a Kansan comes to us and asks how they can get the attention of the Elected Official who sworn to represent them, we are here to serve them. We have two of our grassroots leaders here today to tell you why they fight for Election Day Registration, but before they go on, let me tell you a little bit about this important legislation.

I lead our statewide Citizen Participation Campaign and I’ve been traveling the state speaking with Kansas voters and, for the elected officials of Wichita, your constituents about how they would like to increase citizen participation in their own communities. The vast majority of issues brought to my attention are those that would be resolved with Election Day Registration. Things like not understanding arbitrary registration deadlines, moving, changing your name, or for first time voters, knowing you need to register at all. We know that democracy is stronger when more people participate, and your constituents support this common sense legislation that would help increase citizen participation.

The ACLU of Kansas and our member and volunteer base strongly support implementing election-day registration in Kansas because:

  • Election-day voter registration is a proven tool for increasing voter turnout. States with election-day registration, including Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Utah and Wisconsin, have turnout rates 10-12% higher than states without it. Most importantly, four of the top five states with the highest voter turnout rates have election-day voter registration.
  • Election-day registration reaches historically disenfranchised voters. Members of the military, geographically mobile people, the elderly, young people, voters of color, lower-income Americans, and busy professionals all benefit from election-day registration, and it is widely used by citizens across the political and demographic spectrum. Election-day registration could have an impact on increasing turnout for all Kansans, but is particularly important for the poorest and most marginalized voter.
  • Election-day registration is easy to implement, non-controversial, and used throughout the United States.  Election-day voter registration can be implemented in Kansas alongside existing voter ID requirements. Surveys of election officials in 7 states using election-day registration found that costs were “minimal” and no additional staff was needed.  Election-day registration ensured that voters were providing their most recent and accurate domicile, which would be helpful for maintaining the most accurate voter rolls. The system is so non-controversial that it has been adopted by Republicans and Democrats and is used in 19 states, and the District of Columbia.

As I previously stated, the ACLU is a member-led and volunteer-driven organization. While each one of our members speak as individuals, tackling this issue from their own perspective, together we are here to serve the people of Kansas and listening to the voters across the state has made one thing very clear- it is time to pass Election Day Registration. Now let’s hear from a few of our grassroots leaders to tell you why they fight for expanding our access to democracy through Election Day Registration. 

Viki Nix-Cheatum

Hello I am Viki Nix-Cheatum, a Kansas voter who believes that all citizens of Kansas should have the unimpeded right to register and vote.   That’s why I would like the State of Kansas to enact “Election Day Registration”. 

I have been a Kansas voter for the past 35 years.  As a social worker, I have served our community’s children, families, poor, disabled and minority citizens.  I have seen firsthand the circumstances that prevent these citizens from voting. 

Enactment of Election Day Registration will remove unnecessary barriers such as:

  • not understanding registration deadlines, 
  • having a change of address, 
  • and being a first time voter.  

I’d like to take this opportunity to commend Sedgwick County Election Commissioner, Tabitha Lehman for her outstanding service to voters.  

Let me give you a few examples of her work:

  • Lehman recognized that there was a problem in giving eligible citizens the opportunity to register and vote – she did something about it.
  • To give voters more time to register in 2016, she increased the number of hours for in-person voter registration.
  • In the 2018 primaries, Lehman counted provisional ballots that other counties, such as Johnson County, may have thrown out. 

Thank you Commissioner Lehman for your good service to the voters of Sedgwick County.

Unfortunately, Senator Susan Wagle has not responded to the needs of voters in our state.  As President of the Senate, and member of the Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee, Lehman holds a tremendous amount of power in our Legislature. She determines committee assignments, and has been known to punish fellow Senators by removing them from their committees when they don’t agree with her.  As an example, she removed a number of Senators from their committees, when they refused to support Kris Kobach for Governor. Most importantly, she assigned herself to the Election Committee, but refused to attend the hearing on Election Day Registration. 

Not only does this show Senator Wagle has no interest in learning about EDR from her fellow Senators and experts, but she also has been unresponsive to her constituent’s for meeting requests. Moreover, she has refused to answer emails and letters.  I personally traveled to Topeka with a constituent from her district where we requested, in person, a meeting with her – as yet we have had no response.

Senator Wagle it is time that you respond to the needs of Kansas voters and support Election Day Registration. 

It is time that Kansas join with the 19 states and Washington DC that are already benefiting from EDR.   Let us enact Election Day Voter Registration. Our democracy will be stronger for it.

 

Janet Stanley

My name is Janet Stanley and I am here today to explain why voting rights are so important to me.  I am also here as a veteran of the U.S. Air National Guard and the U.S. Air Force Reserves.  On two occasions in my life, I have raised my right hand and sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.  The first occasion was upon my employment as a nurse for the Veteran’s Administration and the second occasion was upon receiving my commission as an officer in the United States Air Force.  Swearing this oath is a solemn occasion reminding one what it means to be an American with the rights and privileges provided by our country.  It also reminds us of the responsibility we have to this country.  Every citizen can serve her or his country by exercising the right to vote. 

Our military serves to protect this country as well as the rights and freedoms enjoyed by its citizens, including the right to vote.  Citizens and elected representatives of the people have a moral obligation to ensure that every citizen, including our military families and veterans, has the right and the opportunity to vote.

The Military Officers Association of America and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families recently completed a survey in order “to gather information from military family members about their perceptions, challenges and barriers associated with voting and absentee voting as active duty military members.” According to the study “exiting research shows that members of the military and their families often encounter barriers such as frequent moves, duty stations in remote locations, and general inconvenience that makes it difficult to vote.” The survey found that 48 % of active duty and 59% of spouses don’t consider themselves knowledgeable about key absentee ballot deadlines.  I believe it is reasonable to assume that a similar percentage of active duty personnel and their spouses may consider themselves equally uninformed about key voter registration deadlines.

The study recommends that “state and local election offices should routinely monitor the effects policies have on their military voters, using data to determine if military families are disproportionately affected by these policies.”  Let’s end arbitrary voter registration deadlines by enacting Election Day voter registration thereby eliminating a barrier to voting for all of our citizens including our military families as well as our veterans.

Senator Wagle, we are demanding that you stop blocking our duly elected state senators from exercising their right to vote on Election Day voter registration.  We are calling on all citizens of Kansas to make your voices heard.  Let your state representative and state senator know that you want the voice and vote of every Kansas citizen to be heard at the ballot box.  This is the only way to keep our representative democracy strong.  We the people must be heard.

 

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