Kansas poised to make voters show ID at polls

03/24/2011 12:00 AM

03/24/2011 6:12 AM

TOPEKA — Kansas is all but certain to start requiring its voters to show photo identification at the polls next year. But a vote Wednesday in the state Senate raised questions about how other election fraud proposals from Secretary of State Kris Kobach will fare.

The Senate passed, 36-3, a bill that includes Kobach's photo ID proposal. That would make Kansas the 10th state to require voters to show photo ID at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The measure also includes Kobach's plan to require people registering to vote for the first time in Kansas to show election officials a birth certificate, passport or other proof of citizenship but delays the rule until 2013, a year later than Kobach wanted.

The Senate's version of the bill also omits proposals from Kobach to increase penalties for election crimes and to give the Secretary of State's Office the authority to file and prosecute election fraud cases in state courts.

The House's version of the bill, approved last month, follows what Kobach wants, and negotiators for the two chambers are expected to draft the final version.

Many Democrats have complained that the Republican secretary of state's proposals would suppress voter turnout and decrease voter registration numbers. But Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers and argue that Kansans want elections to be more secure.

"It's going to be a hybrid of what the Senate did and what Kobach wanted," said House Elections Committee Chairman Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, who will be his chamber's lead negotiator.

"Kris got elected by an overwhelming majority, and it was on that issue."

But senators said delaying the proof-of-citizenship requirement for a year will give the state more time to educate people.

They also said the delay would allow the Department of Revenue to get a planned system for scanning citizenship documents of people seeking driver's licenses up and running, so the documents can be provided electronically to election officials. The department already had been planning to put the system in place because of a federal law designed to crack down on illegal immigration.

During a caucus meeting Tuesday, Senate Ethics and Elections Committee Chairwoman Terrie Huntington, R-Fairway, told fellow GOP senators that the proposed delay could be eliminated during negotiations with the House.

She was less sure Wednesday, saying the outcome could depend on how quickly the Department of Revenue's system is ready.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, said: "There will be some negotiations, but I think the Senate is pretty firm."

Kobach won last year's election with 59 percent of the vote after making election fraud the key issue of his campaign, but he's long faced skepticism from critics who question just how significant an issue election fraud is in Kansas.

He released a study in January that said the Secretary of State's Office has received 59 reports of alleged irregularities involving at least 221 ballots since 1997 — twice as many as documented by an internal report three years ago. The alleged irregularities don't represent proven cases of voter fraud and are based on sometimes-vague reports of wrongdoing.

Critics contend many perceived irregularities boil down to mistakes by prospective voters and even election officials themselves, not deliberate fraud.

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, said the new voter ID and proof-of-citizenship requirements are most likely to affect poor, minority and elderly voters.

"This chilling effect on our democracy is unnecessary," he said in explaining his vote against the Senate version.

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