Politics & Government

Coalition says proposed voter ID law is costly, unneeded

A newly formed coalition will try to derail Kansas Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach's attempt to get a voter photo identification law passed in the 2011 legislative session.

Kobach, a Republican, made voter photo ID the centerpiece of his campaign, which ended with a decisive victory last month over Democrat incumbent Chris Biggs.

But the Kansas Voter Coalition said Kobach used the "fear factor" to rally support for a photo ID and is launching what it calls an education campaign in hopes of stopping its adoption.

The coalition points to lack of evidence of voter fraud in Kansas and the financial cost to the state of providing a free photo ID for those without one. It says the requirement would suppress voter turnout without doing much to combat voter fraud.

"Kobach has said that the only people opposed to this are extremists," said Kevin Myles, president of the Kansas State Conference of the NAACP and president of the Wichita Branch NAACP. "Once those (legislative) committees see this will affect normal, everyday people, I think they'll make the right decision."

The state's chapters of the NAACP and League of Women Voters are two of seven confirmed members of the coalition. Organizers say they expect to grow to more than a dozen.

Kobach said a broad swath of people support voter photo ID, citing an August 2010 poll conducted by Rasmussen that said 82 percent of Americans wanted the requirement.

"Only a small fringe of the public opposes that," he said. "You can't get to 82 percent with just Republicans."

He began working on the draft of a bill calling for voter photo ID even before he was elected. He plans to have the bill completed by Jan. 1 and have legislators file it before the legislative session begins Jan. 10.

"The intention is to move quickly so Kansas has the most secure elections in the nation," Kobach said.

Coalition's plans

The coalition is also trying to move quickly. But it is scrambling after holding its first meeting in mid-November.

"We are trying to get ahead of the game," said Ernestine Krehbiel, president of the Kansas League of Women Voters. "But we believe it's important that it's not a forgone conclusion that people would automatically say, 'What's the big deal if we eliminate 11 percent of the people?' "

A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's law school says that 11 percent of registered voters — or about 21 million Americans — don't have a photo ID. That same report says 18 percent of Americans over the age of 65, 25 percent of African-Americans and 15 percent of low-income voters don't have a photo ID.

Coalition members say those groups often don't have the documentation necessary to get a photo ID or the transportation to make it happen.

"I can't imagine that we want to see fewer people participating in voting," Myles said. "Why we would want to enact measures that we know would result in lower turnout is beyond me."

The coalition hopes to get people to raise objections to the proposal by contacting their legislators. It also plans to meet with legislators to discuss Kobach's plan and to bring those most affected by the bill before those committees to put a face on the issue.

"The reason we want to stop it at the committee level is because that's the group that's going to study it effectively," Krehbiel said.

How much voter fraud?

Only nine states have some form of a voter photo ID requirement; Oklahoma voters just approved a law with 74 percent support.

Most states allow voters without one to sign an affidavit saying they are who they say they are. Kobach has patterned his proposal after what is used by Georgia and Indiana, which don't have the affidavit provision.

Kobach said he has a mandate to push for a voter photo ID law after claiming 59 percent of the vote in November.

A similar voter ID bill was passed by the Legislature 2008, but it was vetoed by then Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat.

Gov.-elect Sam Brownback, a Republican, has consistently said he supports requiring photo ID at the polls.

GOP state Reps. Lance Kinzer of Olathe and Anthony Brown of Eudora are two legislators that Kobach cited as willing to co-sponsor the bill. He said he hasn't decided whether to have the bill introduced simultaneously in the House and Senate.

Kobach said the bill would also strengthen investigation and prosecution of voter fraud.

He has consistently insisted voter fraud does exist, claiming there were 75 reports of voter fraud in Kansas over the past 10 years going into the 2008 election.

But Brad Bryant, the election director for the Secretary of State's Office, said that through this week Kansas has seen only six convictions for voter fraud since 2002. There were three in 2008 and three in 2004.

All were for double voting — voting in Kansas as well as another state, or in two different counties, Bryant said.

For the 2010 general election, reports of five double voting incidents are still being investigated, Bryant said. Three were in Johnson County, one in Shawnee and Jefferson counties, and one in Leavenworth County.

NAACP's Myles said more than 10 million votes have been cast in the past five years in all of the state's elections.

"You have a better chance of being struck by lightning twice than you do of encountering a case of voter fraud," he said. "There's no evidence of it except for the passionate statements of those who already believe it."

Regardless of the number, Kobach said, "One is too many."

Critics of the plan say the greatest opportunity for fraud is with mail-in ballots. Kobach's proposal would require only those voting at the polls to present an ID, although the bill would require people to show proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate, at the time of registration.

Cost of requirement

Cost of requiring a photo ID is an issue.

Kansans without a driver's license can obtain a state ID photo for $14. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states requiring a voter photo must make it available free to those who can't afford one — or it would be considered an illegal poll tax.

Kobach said he doesn't know yet what the cost of the requirement would be.

"If $14 is the true cost of a state ID, then it would be $14 times however many we need," he said. "I don't know what the numbers are, but it would be a tiny percentage (of the state's voters)."

Still, Myles said, "How do we come up with the money when we're already $450 million in the hole?"

It is important for everyone to consider the big picture, said Marge Zakoura-Vaughan, the human rights chair of the Wichita chapter of United Church Women, which is part of the coalition.

"Not just what does this mean to me," she said, "but what does this mean for those who are more challenged to get to the polls and get a photo ID. Stop and think, 'Is this going to be a hardship for people?' "

Other members of the coalition include the Kansas Equality Coalition, the Peace Center and the state's chapters of the National Organization of Women and the ACLU.

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