A proposed voter ID bill could be costly for Kansas and would make it more difficult to register to vote, opponents said Thursday.
House Bill 2067 would require voters to show a government-issued photo ID and give the secretary of state power to prosecute voter fraud. After winning approval in the House, it is being heard in the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections.
There would be far greater costs to prosecute election crimes than the bill provides, said Holly Weatherford, a program director for the American Civil Liberties Union. She said Missouri has spent $14 million over the past three years to prosecute crimes, and local governments have spent an additional $4 million.
"It amounts to an unfunded mandate for the state," she said.
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Glenda Overstreet, a lobbyist for the NAACP, added that often in such cases, "fiscal implications are minimal at first, but become very substantial over time."
The state estimates that the voter ID bill would cost $10,000 in 2011 for the development of a registration database. Secretary of State Kris Kobach said he didn't expect additional costs for prosecution because his existing legal personnel could absorb the workload.
Kobach said eight Kansas agencies now have independent prosecution authority. He added that the legislation could have been written in two ways — with a special assistant to the state attorney general prosecuting voter fraud or by empowering the secretary of state to do it. He said he deferred to Attorney General Derek Schmidt's wish that the job fall to the secretary of state.
"You all want to have confidence in election returns," Kobach said. "You don't want to have any questions that you won legitimately. Confidence in elections being fair is so essential to our democracy."
Opponents also challenged Kobach's claims that voter fraud is occurring and going unaddressed.
He responded that very few convictions of voter fraud are recorded in Kansas "not because they were investigated and found not worthy, but because the vast majority weren't even investigated."
"These tend to be a fairly low priority when county attorneys are stressed for budget and for time. When you've got an arson case, a rape case, a murder case, and very little resources to devote to them, these (voter fraud) cases tend to get pushed to the side."
Other opponents said the process of voter registration, which would now require proof of U.S. citizenship, would be significantly more difficult.
Bob Harvey, a representative of AARP, claimed that the bill will place roadblocks in the voting process.
"Why create new impediments that will only inhibit minorities, older folks and the disabled from voting?" he said.
Kobach pointed to a provision that would still permit voter registration drives at public places. He said registrants who don't provide ID at the time they fill out the registration can provide the documentation later through a photocopy, scan or even a digital photo sent to an election officer.
Means of proof of U.S. citizenship include birth certificate or passport, driver's license or government-issued ID card, immigration or naturalization documents that show proof of citizenship, or a tribal card.
Three states — Arizona, Georgia and Indiana — require voters to show a photo ID to protect against voter fraud, according to the Pew Center on the States. Indiana's law, which took effect in 2008, has been upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court because it provides for free photo IDs for everyone. Arizona's law, which has been in effect since 2005, has been challenged and is currently embattled in the Court of Appeals.
The Kansas bill would provide free photo IDs to voters who qualify for government assistance programs or live in households with an income 150 percent or less of federal poverty level.