Requiring Kansans to show photo identification in order to vote is a solution in search of a problem, as there is no evidence of significant voter fraud. But given the way the political winds are blowing, it’s a change that seems inevitable.
If so, what will be crucial is ensuring that such a requirement is fair and doesn’t disenfranchise citizens.
GOP secretary of state candidate Kris Kobach has made stopping voter fraud a central part of his campaign — even though records in the Secretary of State’s Office showed that, as of June 2009, there had been only seven cases of alleged fraud referred to local, state or federal authorities in five years, and only one of those cases was prosecuted. Part of Kobach’s plan is to require photo IDs.
“There’s no real downside to it,” he told The Eagle. “We’re protecting this most precious right of citizenship. It’s easy for people to present a photo ID.”
But not everyone has a photo ID, particularly some poor, elderly or disabled Kansans who don’t have driver’s licenses. Thus, requiring IDs could have a very real downside: discouraging voting or disenfranchising certain voters.
That’s a concern of current Secretary of State Chris Biggs, the Democratic candidate. And it’s why only eight states currently request or require a photo ID to vote.
“Whenever we put restrictions on votes, we have to proceed with caution,” Biggs said. “Sometimes restrictions have been used to exclude people (from voting).”
As a result, if Kansas is going to require an ID to vote, the state must go out of its way to make sure that Kansans can get a free photo identification card. And it needs to do that without a lot hurdles or hassles, such as requiring a birth certificate — which some elderly and poor people also don’t have.
The photo ID issue is based on fear and politics and not a serious problem. But if the Legislature and the next governor are going to require an ID to vote, they must do so carefully and responsibly.
Don’t protect “this most precious right of citizenship,” as Kobach called voting, by creating barriers that keep Kansans from exercising that right.