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electionlineWeekly — September 11, 2014

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I. In Focus This Week

Sometimes it’s the simple things
Johnson Co., Kansas finds simple solution for proof-of-citizenship

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Each month, about 50 residents in the Johnson County area of Kansas become newly minted U.S. citizens.

Like naturalization ceremonies in most jurisdictions, following the speeches and the official swearing in and before they get to the punch and cake, with the help of the League of Women Voters, the new citizens are given a chance to register to vote.

However, unlike most other jurisdictions outside of Kansas (and Arizona) these newly registered voters have to show proof of citizenship, something that seemed simple enough given the occasion, but actually proved problematic.

“Even though these new citizens were being sworn in and were given a naturalization number, our law required a copy of the certificate scanned to their records,” explained Brian Newby, Johnson County election commissioner.

Trying to find a simple and inexpensive way to eliminate at least approximately 50 of the 300 or so incomplete registrations his office gets a month, Newby met with the county’s League of Women Voters (LWV) and they came up with a shockingly simple and cost-effective idea.

As part of the “iPad, iRegister” program, each month the county elections office loans the League of Women Voters an iPad to take with them to the naturalization ceremonies where the volunteers snap a photo of the naturalization certificate. The volunteers return the iPad filled with photos and the county downloads the photos and attaches them to the paper voter registration forms.

The program, which required no additional money and only a small amount of manpower to download and subsequently wipe the iPads after each use, has been widely supported and even recently received the Minute Man Award from the National Association of Elections Officials.

“…[T]he Secretary of State’s office has been very supportive and recommended that other offices consider the same approach,” Newby said.

The only advance work Newby’s office really had to do was figure out a check-out system for the iPads. They created a check-out form that is signed by the LWV volunteer who agrees to return the iPad within 48 hours and immediately report if the iPad is lost or stolen.

“None of that has been necessary, but we thought we’d create structure around this and have an iPad chain of custody,” Newby said. “We have procedures with other things related to elections, and this didn’t seem any different to us.  We want to be able to demonstrate to stakeholders that we took adequate precautions with the data.”

Since its inception the program has helped facilitate the registration process for about 600 new voters.

Of course it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. One month the naturalization ceremony was held at a different location and on that occasion an official with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approached the LWV volunteer and told them that it was illegal for them to photograph the certificates.

After Newby blogged about it in his excellent Election Diary, someone from the USCIS office called Newby to discuss the situation.

“Their biggest concern was if we were authorizing this. They approved of the process knowing that the League was using our iPad and essentially acting as our agent,” Newby explained.

Because residents from all over Kansas are attending naturalization ceremonies, Newby’s staff is able to help out other counties with their new voters as well.

“The best thing…is that not all the new citizens at these ceremonies are in Johnson County.  Many are in Wyandotte County and others come from around the state,” Newby said. “This allows us to send the registration form and proof of citizenship to whatever county in Kansas the person lives.  So other counties don’t have to chase down documentation.”

Obviously iPad, iRegister is fairly specific to jurisdictions in Kansas and Arizona since they are the only states that currently require proof-of-citizenship for a complete voter registration, but Newby says the program demonstrates the possibilities iPads and other such tablets provide.

“It demonstrates how a tablet could be used to facilitate registration or advance voting applications,” Newby said.