Voter ID bill poised to become law

03/30/2011 12:00 AM

03/30/2011 7:27 AM

TOPEKA — Kansans will have to show a photo ID to vote beginning next year.

But new voters won't have to prove their citizenship to register until 2013 under a bill the House passed 111-11 and sent to the governor, who is expected to sign it into law.

The bill would make Kansas the 10th state to require a photo ID at the polls.

"Securing our elections is not a Republican issue. It's not a Democrat issue. It's an American issue," said Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a major backer of the measure. "This bill ensures that in Kansas it's easy to vote, but hard to cheat."

Others have questioned whether voter fraud is rampant in Kansas. They say the law will create a maze of obstacles for legitimate voters.

Under the bill:

* Voters would provide an ID when they cast ballots starting Jan. 1, 2012. The ID could be a driver's license, a state ID card, a passport, a military ID, or a license for carrying a concealed handgun. 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.

* Voters casting advance ballots by mail must provide a current driver's license number, state ID card number or a copy of an acceptable ID form.

* Would-be voters must prove their citizenship when they register to vote beginning Jan. 1, 2013. Acceptable documents for proving citizenship include a birth certificate, a passport, or a driver's license from another state so long as the license shows they have proven their citizenship.

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 its law, and Arizona's was invalidated by a federal appeals court, according to state legislative research.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said the constitutionality of the registration requirements may still be challenged in the courts.

"We'll have to let the court system sort that out," he said. "Giving it a year gives us time for that to be decided or to see if any rulings come from other states."

Kobach, a constitutional law professor, said he thought the legal viability of the proof-of-citizenship requirement was "extremely high."

The act lost some of its power in the Senate. The secretary of state will not have the power to prosecute cases of voter fraud as originally proposed. Some penalties for voter improprieties were lessened as well.

Kobach said he is not disappointed that the power to prosecute was not granted to his office. But he said that is important and he will continue to lobby for it.

"To have a 100 percent system, you want to have both prosecution for when the barriers for election fraud fail, and you want to have an effective barrier," he said.

The Senate also voted to delay until 2013 the requirement that new voters provide proof of citizenship when they register.

"It's probably as good as it's going to get if we're going to pass a voter ID bill," said Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, who opposed the original version of the bill but voted for this version. "The public has said, for better or worse, we want a voter ID bill."

Kobach said Kansas now has a model process for ensuring elections that other states should copy.

"No other state in the union has enacted legislation of this magnitude," he said.

He said it is hard to know just how much voter fraud exists in Kansas because not only has there been no sound system to catch it, but there has also been little effort to prosecute it. He said he would be surprised if even 10 percent of cases of voter fraud have been detected in the past.

He said the danger of voter fraud in Kansas is greatest in local elections in which the number of votes cast is small.

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