By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Potential voters may register as Rumpelstiltskin Smith, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said, but if they can’t produce a form of photo identification, they won’t be allowed to vote.
Kobach made a stop Thursday in Pittsburg to explain the three requirements of the new Secure and Fair Elections Act as Kansas counties gear up for the August primary and the November general election. It aims to eliminate voter fraud, he said.
“We wanted to make it easy to vote in Kansas but hard to cheat,” he told a crowd of elected officials, agency representatives and other residents at the meeting in the Beards-Shanks Law Enforcement Center. “I think we accomplished that.”
In addition to photo identification, the law imposes tighter security for advance voting by absentee ballot and requires previously unregistered voters to provide proof of citizenship.
Kansas was the first state to combine the three requirements. The law, passed last year, went into effect in January.
Since the 2010 election, nine states have passed laws requiring voters to provide identification: Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. Twenty-seven states already had voter ID laws on the books before 2011.
In Alabama, South Carolina and Texas, laws already required non-photo IDs; the new laws require a photo.
The U.S. Justice Department has rejected the new voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas, and the states are suing the federal government in response. A judge in Wisconsin temporarily blocked that state’s new voter ID law this spring; the state attorney general is appealing.
The voter ID requirement is not without opposition. Kobach’s stop on Thursday comes on the heels of Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announcing Tuesday that a proposed constitutional amendment requiring voters to have photo IDs will not be on the ballot this year.
The Missouri Supreme Court first deemed the proposal unconstitutional in 2006, and ballot summary language used by state lawmakers was struck down earlier this spring by a trial judge who called it “insufficient and unfair.” The Missouri Legislature then failed to rewrite the summary.
Republicans generally have argued that voter ID is a necessary protection against voter fraud, while Democrats have said such measures prevent elderly, poor and minority voters who may have difficulty obtaining proper ID from voting.
Kobach cited cases of people with false identities being registered to vote in Missouri and Nevada, and at least 235 documented cases of voter fraud in Kansas.
“In Wyandotte County, we knew of more than 50 cases of people’s ballots being fraudulently requested by other individuals,” he said.
During Kobach’s presentation, Pittsburg resident Marcia Weeks was among a few who took issue with his assessment of voter fraud in those states, and she referenced a Joplin Globe editorial published Wednesday about the Missouri issue. She questioned whether requiring a photo ID is fair and whether it would deter people from voting.
According to figures provided by Kobach, voter turnout has been higher than average for elections in Kansas since the implementation of the law.
“One of the things that affects voter turnout is confidence that voters have that their vote is going to count, that there’s not going to be any funny business,” Kobach said. “That if it is a close election, and it was down to one vote, people will say, ‘Yeah, it was down to one vote, but we know it was fair and square, that there’s just no way to cheat.’ I think that’s what we all want, that the close calls are called correctly.”
Several in attendance presented various hypothetical situations in which a voter might not be able to produce a Kansas driver’s license.
Kobach said people who are poor are no less likely to have a driver’s license, and that acceptable photo IDs also include a concealed-carry handgun license from any state; a U.S. passport; an employee badge or ID document from a city, county, state or federal office or a school; a military identification document; a student identification card from any Kansas institution of higher learning; a public assistance card issued by any city, county, state or federal office; and an Indian tribal ID.
In addition, voters older than 65 may use expired driver’s licenses. Free photo IDs may be obtained from the Kansas Division of Motor Vehicles.
“We’re just trying to make sure voters match up with a photo that shows who they are,” Kobach said.
There are exemptions to the photo ID requirement, he noted, including those who cite religious objections to having their photos taken, people who are on the permanent advance voting list, military voters overseas who vote under the federal procedure, and elections conducted by mail.
The law’s second stipulation, which pertains to advance ballot voter identification, stipulates that a person voting by mail must first provide a signature to request a ballot. Those signatures will be verified by counties against signatures in the state’s database.
A voter requesting that the ballot be returned to a county clerk by someone else must specify that in writing on the envelope, and the person returning it must sign a statement.
Kobach cited cases in other counties in which advance ballots were never returned to clerks after being picked up from voters at nursing homes.
Advance ballot voters also may write their driver’s license number on the application form, or submit a copy of any form of valid identification with it.
Pittsburg resident Cheryl Mayo noted concerns over whether the law takes into account possible reduced health capacities of a voter who might not be able to produce an accurate current signature in comparison with a previous one.
Kobach said the law allows for special arrangements to be made by county clerks to verify the signatures. Crawford County Clerk Don Pyle said someone from his office could go to the person’s residence to obtain a new signature if necessary.
The law’s third requirement, proof of U.S. citizenship for previously unregistered voters, will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2013. Acceptable as proof of citizenship will be a driver’s license from any state, a birth certificate, a U.S. passport, naturalization documents, an American Indian tribal membership card, an adoption decree, military records, or a hospital record of birth.
Mayo asked about circumstances in which births were in hospitals that are no longer in existence, or were by home delivery. Kobach said an affidavit from a family member or other person who can vouch for the voter would suffice.
Pyle said that in coming weeks, his office will be working with other county and city offices to educate voters by including fliers in water bills and other mailed documents. He can be reached at 620-724-6115.
The state’s informational website for the law is at www.gotvoterid.com, or residents may call 800-262-VOTE.
Kris Kobach’s stop in Pittsburg was the first in an 11-city tour across Kansas that wraps up in mid-June. In Kansas, July 17 is the last day to register to vote in the primary election on Aug. 7. Oct. 16 is the last day to register to vote in the Nov. 6 general election.