Shawnee 92-year-old resident earns right to vote
Shawnee Evelyn Howard, 92, still has a voice.
In the Shawnee's Heartland Assisted Living center, it's a kind, soft voice that greets her neighbors and caretakers warmly. In the world of elections, she has a strong voice, her vote.
Last month, a state board approved Howard's voter registration after she, with the help of her daughter, presented copies of census records and a page from a family Bible to proved that she is a U.S. citizen.
Howard's goal to be able to vote in Kansas in upcoming elections began early this August. Marilyn Hopkins, Howard's daughter, said that her mother tried to sign up for mail-in ballots last month when she realized she hadn't registered to vote in Kansas yet.
"I told her she couldn't vote and she got this forlorn look on her face," Hopkins said.
Howard said that she had been voting in every election for as long as she can remember and she isn't ready to stop.
"If we don't vote, we don't have any say," Howard said.
After realizing she needed to register to vote in Kansas after living most of her life in Missouri, Howard and Hopkins tried to register locally. They took Howard's identification card and other information to the state office but were turned away because they requested her birth certificate. Kansas requires new voters to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of citizenship when registering. Howard doesn't have a birth certificate, but luckily, she said, she has kept everything from her storied life.
"I even make scrap quilts from left over string because I never throw anything away," Howard laughed.
Prior to the hunt that was to ensue for census records and other information affirming Howard's status as a U.S. citizen, the family had held an auction for some of Howard's belongings.
One of the items taken was the old family Bible, complete with the birth records for Howard's family, which had been misplaced in a box of sold items. A fortuitous turn of fate came when the buyer of Bible realized what the back of the book contained and called the family back to return it.
"They thought it should stay in the family and so they sent it back to us," Hopkins said.
The Bible, which shows that Howard was born in a midwife's home in northern Minnesota in February 1922, together with census data that Howard found showing that she lived in Missouri when she was 18, was sent along with a letter to the state to be considered for voter registration.
Howard's letter detailed everything from where she was born to where she had lived her entire life.
It all lead to a teleconference with the State Election Board. Kansas' proof-of-citizenship law allows prospective voters to appeal to a three-member Election Board and Howard's case was the third the state has considered since the law took effect in 2013.
The board that heard Howard's case was comprised of Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was a key figure in pushing for the proof-of-citizenship law. The board's decision was unanimous in favor of Howard.
"They said that her card would be coming in the mail and she was very happy," Hopkins said.
As of last week, about 20,000 voter registrations remain on hold because the prospective voters haven't met citizenship requirements.
Hopkins said her mother and late father Leslie Howard taught her the importance of voting at a young age, and she said she thought it was still very important to fight for her mother's right to vote.
"Both my mom and my dad taught me that voting wasn't just a privilege, but it was also a duty," Hopkins said.
Howard, who has voted in some of the country's most historic presidential elections, said she is excited to vote again in the upcoming general election.
"When you think about other countries that don't have this privilege and what they're going through," Howard said, "you realize how important this is."