Passage of the voter photo identification bill by the Legislature last week was a giant step backward on voters' rights and expenditures by the state. The League of Women Voters of Kansas urges Gov. Sam Brownback to veto this legislation.
The bill requires eligible citizens to present a government-issued, current and valid photo identification at the polling place in 2012 and proof of citizenship by 2013 in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote. It is a prime example of wasteful use of taxpayers' money that will likely cost the state of Kansas millions of dollars at a time when we are cutting essential state government services.
Kansans sent a clear message in the November 2010 election: They want responsible, cost-efficient government. Yet lawmakers are squandering precious taxpayer dollars to pay for voter photo ID when our state has effective identification procedures already in place.
U.S. courts have ruled that to charge someone for documents to be able to vote would violate the U.S. Constitution. (It would be a poll tax.) They have ruled that states must provide free documents that are required for voting.
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However, the Legislature has not budgeted the money for the cost of this photo ID program or the requirement of citizenship documents, or to defend a court challenge.
According to a survey of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, as many as 11 percent of voters do not have government-issued photo identification. That could mean the state will have to pay more than $3 million to provide free identification.
What is more, the burden will be greatest for citizens for whom it is most cost-prohibitive or inconvenient: the elderly or those who have to take off work, get transportation, stand in line and apply for documentation. Often these individuals don't have the underlying documentation that is needed to get an ID. Thus this requirement would disenfranchise the very people who currently must work the hardest to vote.
This is a foolish experiment when there is no data to prove that there is a fraud problem in Kansas. Indeed, the Brennan Center calculated that Kansans are twice as likely to get hit by lightning as to have their votes canceled out by fraudulently cast votes.
Where do the Legislature and the governor think the millions of dollars to implement this plan will come from? There is no such thing as a free voter ID.
States with such laws have found that it cost counties thousands of dollars annually to implement just the ID part of such a law. In addition, there are other significant costs that need to be addressed, such as additional poll worker training, public education campaigns, defending against lawsuits, and printing and mailing additional absentee ballots.
In modern society, it is easy to assume that everyone has appropriate ID or can prove his or her citizenship. But it is more difficult than one might think.
The costs in time and money of obtaining proof of citizenship and photo ID clearly will discourage voter participation. Our state government should be in the business of making it easier for citizens to vote, not adding costly restrictions and hassles that will negatively affect voters.