Senate takes up voter ID bill with testimony that election official says isn't true

TOPEKA — A former Sedgwick County poll worker told a Senate committee today that she observed gross irregularities in the 2008 election — allegations that the county election commissioner says are not true.

Kathy Perry, a Wichitan who worked as a provisional ballot judge in 2008, testified as the Senate began its consideration of a bill proposed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach to require voters to show government ID to vote and to require new voters to prove their citizenship.

Kobach said the legislation – House Bill 2067 — known as the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act – is needed to fight voting fraud in the state.

The Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections took up the bill, which passed the House on Feb. 25 by a vote of 83 to 36.

Perry was one of several poll workers from past elections who shared anecdotes that they claimed show that improprieties are taking place.

Perry testified that one woman showed up at the polling place wanting to cast a stack of 50 ballots that had already been filled out. She said the woman told her she had found those and about 450 others at a mall.

Perry said those ballots were not accepted, but that a host of other questionable ballots were.

"It was just very disturbing to let people cast provisional ballots you know are illegitimate without knowing if they will be detected," Perry said. "It was a very sad day for the elections workers."

Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Bill Gale said none of the other poll workers at the site where Perry worked could confirm her assertion of a woman bringing in multiple ballots. He said there was a report of one woman who brought in one ballot.

He said that happens every election. People get a ballot mailed to them, forget to mail it back and then show up, with or without the ballot, at the polling place.

Gale said the procedure when that happens is to void the mail ballot if the person brings it in, have the voter cast a provisional vote — which is held pending further checks to ensure that only one ballot is counted.

Gale said Perry called him shortly after the election with a number of complaints, including an assertion — which he almost immediately determined to be untrue — that a woman had registered three times using three variants of her name.

Perry repeated that assertion to the Senate committee today.

Kobach testified briefly at the hearing and began answering questions about the impact his proposed law would have on voter registration drives and poor and elderly voters who don’t drive.

Kobach said voters who are over 65 and have expired driver's licenses would be allowed to use those as a form of ID.

He said free IDs are available through a waiver to any legal voter who can show they can't afford a state ID – the price of which is $8. He added that there are at present more people in Kansas with IDs than there are potential voters.

"I have not yet found anyone who is a legal voter who doesn't have an ID," Kobach told the committee.

Kobach also explained how persons who change their name or address can demonstrate that change in order to vote.

The state recently checked the voter registration roll against a list of temporary driver's licenses, which are issued to non-citizens who they can drive while legally in the country.

That sweep resulted in eight matches, but only one Sedgwick County ballot cast, in a Wichita municipal primary.

That unqualified voter has entered a diversion program and the single misdemeanor charge will be dismissed if she doesn’t get in any further trouble for a year, prosecutors said.

In a separate case, a confused immigrant woman voted in several elections — and turned in her voting record with her citizenship application, thinking it would help her chances.

Brian Newby, Johnson Count Election Commissioner, told the committee that he asked himself when the bill came before the House "Can we implement this?"

"I am very confident that we can, speaking as the largest voting district in the state," Newby said. He said he didn't expect a significant increase in the workload for the commission and said financial cost involved would be minor.

"I do think voter confidence would be increased if voter ID were required," Newby said.

As he did when he addressed the House Elections Committee, Kobach used a list of 221 reported incidents of election crimes in Kansas between 1997 and 2010 as evidence of voter improprieties.

A Wichita Eagle investigation of the alleged Sedgwick County election irregularities on the list found that except for the two immigrants who voted, all the allegations had either been disproved entirely or appeared to be routine errors by voters and/or family members.

Kobach has acknowledged in the past that the list contains only allegations and complaints, not proven instances of voting irregularities.

Today, Kobach said he thinks the report "significantly understates the incidence of election fraud in Kansas."

"Until my administration took office in January 2011, there was no reporting system or process for receiving reports of election fraud."

Hearings in the House Elections Committee earlier in the year were contentious events that attracted packed-house audiences.

Kobach's proposal was challenged then with claims that it would inhibit voter registration drives, would prove burdensome for people who move or change their names, and could be considered a poll tax due to the cost of a photo ID.

Opponents will have a chance to express their opinions at 9:30 tomorrow when the committee continues the hearing on the bill.

Similar legislation has been approved in both houses in past years. The closest to becoming law was in 2008, when Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed a bill that passed both houses. Gov. Sam Brownback has already said he will sign into law such a bill, should it reach his desk.

– By Todd Fertig and Dion Lefler