TOPEKA — Even though they knew they were fighting for a lost cause, Kansas House Democrats took one last shot Thursday at trying to derail Secretary of State Kris Kobach's bill to require voters to provide government-issue photo ID when they vote in person or by mail.
House Bill 2067 also requires new voters to prove their citizenship with a birth certificate, passport or other documents.
After about an hour of debate, the measure passed the House 78-36.
House approval was widely expected. A similar, though less-stringent, measure passed both houses of the Legislature two years ago, but was vetoed by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat.
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Since then, the House has become more Republican and conservative, with only 33 of 125 seats held by Democrats.
Kobach listened in on the House debate and vote through a patch from his office computer to his office phone to his cell phone, while driving on the Kansas Turnpike in a snowstorm.
"I'm very pleased the vote margin was such a big one," he said. "Surveys have consistently shown Kansas voters overwhelmingly want this."
The ranking minority member of the House Elections Committee, Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, conceded the battle was lost when she opened her attack on the bill on the House floor Thursday evening.
"I know this bill is going to fly out of here," she said. But, she added that she would go forward anyway because "folks back home are not going to like the major provisions of this bill."
She peppered Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee — the House freshman who carried the bill on the floor — with a series of technical questions about the mechanisms of the bill, practices in other states and court decisions.
Her major contention was that the proof of citizenship requirement would virtually halt sidewalk and shopping center registration drives and undercut the "Motor Voter" act that sought to increase voter participation by encouraging registration at driver's license bureaus.
"So I go in to renew my license at the DMV and they say 'Would you like to register to vote?' Can I do that?" asked Mah.
"Uh, yes," Rubin replied.
"How do I prove citizenship?"
"Well, there again the (proof of) citizenship could be subsequent."
"OK, so I can't actually do that at the DMV anymore if I don't have my birth certificate on me, or my passport. I have to go home and get that documentation."
Rubin replied that the Department of Motor Vehicles would soon be requiring proof of citizenship to renew licenses.
Mah, however, said she had contacted the department and found it has no date set to start doing that and once it does start, full implementation will take six years.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, argued that opponents' fears of vote suppression are groundless in an era when just about everyone has identification.
"You can't even enroll your child in Little League without a birth certificate," she said.
Rep. Eber Phelps, D-Hays, contended that the underlying justification for the bill — Kobach's allegations of widespread fraud and voting by illegal immigrants — is what is groundless.
He said the much larger problem is low voter turnout and the Legislature should work on fixing that instead.
He said he was amazed by "the amount of effort we put into making voting more difficult ... Why do we put all this effort into a problem that doesn't exist?"
After a final vote by the House on Friday, the measure would move to the Senate.
Kobach said he had talked to several senators who expressed support, but "you never know until the votes are tallied."
He said he is hoping for swift passage so he can begin implementing the requirements for the 2012 elections.