TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas residents can now register to vote at the state agencies where they receive public benefits under an agreement with civil rights groups that brings the state back into compliance with federal election law, the governor said Friday.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Department for Children and Families have expanded opportunities for residents wishing to register or update their voter registration. The agencies have also committed to providing resources to help them register.
"Every lawfully eligible Kansans deserves an equal opportunity to cast his or her ballot in every election," Kelly, a Democrat, said in a news release. "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 National Voter Registration Act, passed in 1993, requires voter registration assistance at state agencies providing public assistance benefits. Although the agencies may have been in compliance in the past, previous administrations allowed them to abandon those obligations, Kelly's office said.
Several Republican legislative leaders have not responded to messages seeking comment.
To address those deficiencies, Kelly's office has been working since November 2019 with voting rights advocacy non-profit Loud Light that was represented by the think tank Demos, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, and the ACLU's national Voting Rights Project.
"The most important takeaway is that we're opening up opportunities to register to vote. Voter participation is always our biggest priority," said Davis Hammet, executive director of Loud Light.
The written agreement between Kansas and the advocacy groups avoided litigation, according to the release.
It also set out certain milestones to get Kansas back into compliance. Those include updating policies, incorporating voter registration information into benefits material and providing registration information at the agencies' offices and websites. The two agencies also sent out more than 277,000 voter registrations through "remedial mailings" before the 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," says Sharon Brett, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas.