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Voter ID law opponents speak out to committee

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011, at 12:05 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011, at 6:21 a.m.

TOPEKA — Opponents of a bill that would require all voters to provide photo ID and new registrants to prove their citizenship claimed Tuesday that the measure would virtually shut down registration drives in Kansas.

Kevin Myles, president of the Wichita and state branches of the NAACP, said the proposal by Secretary of State Kris Kobach would put potential voters in a position where they would probably decline to register rather than provide the citizenship documents that would be required under the bill.

Myles was one of several opponents who testified in a hearing before the House Elections Committee. Proponents, including Kobach, testified last week.

Also opposing the bill were representatives of the National Organization for Women, the League of Women Voters, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Civil Liberties Union — and a transgender person who lives as a woman but whose birth certificate identifies her as male.

As one who had gone door-to-door registering voters, Myles asked the committee to consider what they would do if a stranger showed up at their house with a registration form and asked to make copies of their personal documents to complete the process.

"Would you be comfortable giving me a copy of your driver's license?" he asked.

Myles contended that while there have been fewer than 10 documented fraudulent votes in the past 14 years, Kobach's bill would disenfranchise thousands of legitimate voters.

The denial of voting rights would fall hardest on the poor, who move twice as often as more affluent voters and have a harder time keeping their documents up to date, Myles said.

"In 2008, the Wichita NAACP partnered with KDGS 93.9 radio station, Sunflower Community Action, Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and Outback Steakhouse to host a community registration forum in a popular Wichita park," he testified. "We were joined in the park by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.

"We gathered more than 350 registrations in just a few short hours," he said. "But had this proposed bill been in effect at the time, all 350 legal registration applications would have been rejected by the secretary's office."

In his testimony last week, Kobach said he thinks the disruption to the voting process would be minimal because current voters wouldn't have to prove citizenship to re-register or change addresses.

Also, he said state records show there are already more drivers' licenses and non-driver IDs in circulation than there are registered voters, so people who wouldn't have the proper documents to cast a ballot would be few.

Kobach, a nationally prominent opponent of illegal immigration, has said he believes illegal voting is far more common than the number of investigations and prosecutions would indicate.

Rep. Bill Otto, R-LeRoy, said he thought Myles raised a valid point about requiring copies of documents to be provided with registrations.

He said that could raise identity theft issues and wouldn't provide any information that state officials couldn't access with just a driver's license number.

Otto also was sympathetic to Stephanie Mott of Topeka, the transgender person who testified.

Mott recounted running into trouble registering once before because her ID documents said she was male and had her given name as Steven.

Not only did she have to reveal she was transgender, she said, "I had to describe for everyone in the room what that was about."

After the hearing, Otto talked with Mott about possible changes in the law to allow transgender people to amend their birth certificates to reflect their new identity.

Voter photo ID bills have passed both houses of the Legislature before.

Two years ago, then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed such a measure and its supporters did not have enough votes to override.

Gov. Sam Brownback has indicated he will sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.

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