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Secretary of State Kobach pleased with Wichita test of voter ID law

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012, at 5:47 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, August 27, 2013, at 9:38 a.m.

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Go to Kansas.com for a photo gallery of Tuesday’s voting.

The man who brought Kansas its voter photo identification law came to town Tuesday to see how it was working.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach visited two polling sites and spent some at time the Sedgwick County Election Office as the new voter ID underwent in its first large-scale test.

About 13.5 percent of registered voters in Wichita — 26,457 — turned out to decide if developers of a new downtown hotel could keep $2.25 million in guest tax revenues over 15 years.

That’s slightly more than the 13.1 percent that turned out for the mayoral election last spring and a little less than the 15 percent Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman had projected. The issue failed, 61 percent to 38 percent.

Kobach said the voter ID system worked well. “I think the overwhelming majority of people are happy with this law,” he said. “We’re seeing this is not only going smoothly and efficiently, it’s not having any of the negative consequences that some detractors claim the law would have.”

But not everyone agreed. Some voters thought showing an ID was a good idea, but others reported delays and confusion at the polls.

Twenty-two voters had to cast provisional ballots because they didn’t have a photo ID, Lehman said. Those voters have until Monday to take their photo ID to the election office on the first floor of the historic courthouse, 510 N. Main, for their vote to count.

Chris Lawless, 20, doesn’t have a government-issued ID, so he filled out a provisional ballot at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church after many frustrating minutes spent waiting on election officials to decide whether he could vote. Lawless, who doesn’t have a birth certificate or photo ID, was born in Wichita.

“Everybody is pointing in three other directions and not knowing what to do,” said Lawless, who lives with his sister in Wichita.

Ernestine Krehbiel, president of the Kansas League of Women Voters, said she took Lawless to St. Andrew’s to vote because he was a family friend.

“He’s so frustrated he’s almost given up,” Krehbiel said. “And that’s what we were concerned with a lot of people like this, when they run into difficulty they just give up.”

Randy Roduck, a former Air Force colonel, tried to use his retired military ID, which includes a photo, to vote at East Metro Baptist Church. A U.S. military ID is one of the acceptable forms of ID.

But poll workers weren’t able to get the system to accept the ID, he said.

“They seemed confused,” Roduck said. He finally gave them his driver’s license and voted.

Voters interviewed at the Westlink Church of Christ site had no objections to showing a photo ID

“It’s a good idea … keeps people who aren’t citizens from voting," said Linda Lavid, 64.

Monica DeGraffenreid, 31, who came to vote with her two young children, agreed.

“Just so you can make sure you are who you say you are,” she said.

At the Sedgwick County Zoo poll site, voter Thelma Grimes, 83, thanked Kobach for making the voter ID law a requirement in Kansas.

“It’s long overdue,” she told him.

Lehman said she’s aware of one person who showed up at a polling place and said he wouldn’t vote if he had to show an ID. The man then left. Kobach said he knows of one person who did the same thing at a January election in Cimarron.

A few tech glitches

There were some technological glitches, although Lehman said those weren’t related to the photo ID law. She said the snags came from the electronic signature pads and ID scanners, which also were being used for the first time in the county. In the past, poll workers had to flip through a poll book to find the voter’s name.

Lehman said St. Andrew’s was the only site that wasn’t eventually able to use its electronic signature pads. The others who were having problems were operating by at least mid-morning, she said.

When the pads couldn’t be used, voters used the old-fashioned method and signed poll books, Lehman said.

In east Wichita, Cindy Younger wound up at the wrong polling place because that’s where she was told to go by an automated campaign phone call.

Younger said the robo-call urged her to vote “yes” on the ballot measure and told her that her polling place was at the Maranatha Worship Center, on Webb Road just south of the Kansas Turnpike. When she arrived, an election worker told her she’d have to go to the Greenwich Road Church of Christ, on Webb Road south of Harry Street. The poll worker pointed her in the wrong direction but she eventually found it, she said.

“If I’d had to work today and was doing it at lunch, I’d have probably just given up,” she said.

Lehman said she had heard of a small number of similar complaints from voters, all out of the Maranatha precinct.

Developer Paul Coury, leader of the yes campaign, contacted the campaign’s consultant and said it appeared a small number of voters were told to go to the wrong polling place by campaign calls.

He said there appeared to be some confusion because some regular polling places weren’t open for the special election.

Coury said it certainly was not the campaign’s intent to misdirect anyone.

“We’d want them to go to the right place to vote,” he said. “If it’s a mistake, I guarantee it’s hurting us, not helping us.”

Contributing: Dion Lefler of The Eagle

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