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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Voter ID law burdens Wichita


Voter ID is now the law in Kansas. But Kansans and especially Wichitans should note some serious pitfalls of the law as identified by a new national study, and consider whether they’re comfortable if their cure for the negligible problem of voter fraud interferes with the constitutional right to vote of some eligible voters.

For those who already have driver’s licenses or other accepted government-issued photo IDs, remembering to bring an ID to the polls for the August primary or November general election will be no big deal. Those 65 and older may use expired photo IDs.

And it’s true that a Kansan without a driver’s license can secure a free ID card from the state Division of Motor Vehicles by providing proof of identity and residence, and that anyone born in the state can get a free birth certificate if needed to prove identity.

But that all involves filling out forms, signing affidavits and finding transportation to offices during daytime hours – no small matter anytime given Wichita’s poor bus system but especially this summer, given the long lines at the Kansas driver’s license offices related to computer changes.

In its new analysis of the voter-ID laws in 10 states titled “The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification,” the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law found that 7,373 Kansans, or 7.7 percent of voting-age citizens, lack vehicle access and live more than 10 miles away from ID-issuing offices.

Wichita was among four cities singled out for concern (along with Dallas, Knoxville, Tenn., and Rock Hill, S.C.).

Researchers noted that Wichita has only one ID-issuing office (at Twin Lakes Shopping Center) to serve 160,700 eligible voters and that “voters in Wichita must endure long lines and long waits to obtain the free identification required for voting.”

There are 90 such offices statewide, or one for every 22,000 voting-age citizens, the Brennan Center said, but “the one office in Wichita serves nearly eight times the ‘customer base’ of the average office statewide.”

Plus, the city “has a disproportionately high concentration of people of color and people in poverty. Wichita is home to 22 percent of the state’s black eligible voting population, 15.6 percent of the state’s Hispanic citizen population, and 12.8 percent of the state’s population in poverty,” the study said.

And nationally, 25 percent of African-Americans, 16 percent of Hispanics and 15 percent of those who are low-income lack a government-issued ID, according to the study.

So it’s reasonable to expect that the new law will disproportionately affect – and disenfranchise – eligible minority and poor voters in Wichita.

And if getting a “free” ID comes at the cost of transportation, child care or lost wages, that ID is not free.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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