March 23, 2011

Kansas Senate approves voter ID bill

The Kansas Senate this morning overwhelmingly passed a bill that would require voters to present an ID when they cast a ballot at the polls.

TOPEKA | The Kansas Senate this morning overwhelmingly passed a bill that would require voters to present an ID when they cast a ballot at the polls.

The Senate voted 36-3 to pass the bill, which has been a centerpiece of Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s legislative agenda this year.

The leading critic in the Senate was Democrat David Haley of Kansas City, Kan. He contended that the bill was an onerous piece of legislation that would have a chilling effect on democracy by discouraging people to vote.

Kobach had been pushing for the bill, saying it was key to fighting voter fraud. He built his case on a report detailing 221 cases of voter fraud from 1997 to 2010.

Just last year alone, there were five cases of voter fraud reported in Johnson County. Four were sent to the DA for investigation, but only one was considered serious.

Over in Wyandotte County, 25 cases of voter fraud were referred to the DA. Seventeen of those cases involved felons voting illegally. They cast provisional ballots, which were later not counted. In four cases, voters signed affidavits claiming they lived in Wyandotte County. There were four other instances when voters tried to cast ballots more than once.

The Senate version of the bill would require voters to provide an ID when they cast ballots starting Jan. 1, 2012.

The bill also would require would-be voters to prove their citizenship when they register. The citizenship requirement would start Jan. 1, 2013.

Only two other states — Georgia and Arizona — have proof-of-citizenship requirements and neither is currently in effect. Georgia is fighting to get U.S. Justice Department approval for it’s law and Arizona’s was invalidated by a federal appeals court, according to state legislative research.

The Kansas bill would require voters to show IDs at the polls. The ID could include a driver’s license, a state ID card or a passport.

Exemptions would include people with permanent physical disabilities or active-duty military personnel and their spouses.

A free state ID would be available to anyone 18 or older as long they sign an affidavit stating they plan to vote and don’t have any other form of ID acceptable under the bill.

State officials don’t believe many IDs will be needed. The state has a voting-age population of about 2.12 million. There are about 2.15 million people in Kansas who have driver’s licenses or state ID cards.

The Senate version of the voter ID bill is slightly different from the one passed overwhelming in the House last month.

Senators removed provisions of the original bill that would have given Kobach the authority to criminally prosecute allegations of voter fraud. They also voted to delay until 2013 the start date at which new voters will have to provide proof of citizenship when they register.

The bill will now go back to the House to concur with the Senate changes or it will go to a conference committee to work out the differences.

House members believe the bill will need to have some provision allowing the secretary of state’s office to prosecute election fraud even if it means that the attorney general assigns someone to that office to handle those cases.

The House also may not be willing to agree to delay the proof-of-citizenship requirement or reductions in some of the voter fraud penalties contained in the Senate version.

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