Secretary of State Kris Kobach held a public meeting here Tuesday to discuss a controversial new Kansas voting law.
Manhattan is the fifth stop of his 11-town tour to discuss the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act, which went into effect this year. Kobach held a Tuesday afternoon meeting in Salina.
The law addresses three voting issues: voters bringing photo identification to the polls to vote, signature confirmation of mail-in ballots and proof of citizenship being required for anyone registering to vote in Kansas for the first time starting on Jan. 1, 2013.
The valid photo IDs include driver’s license, U.S. passport, student ID card from accredited post-secondary institution in Kansas, U.S. military ID, Indian tribe ID, government employee ID (including school district), concealed carry of handgun license and public assistance ID.
Kobach said approximately half the counties have had local and/or county elections since the new law has come into effect. He said 84 people out of the about 68,000 voters showed up without a photo ID, which is about one tenth of one percent. He added that rather than suppressing voter turnout, as some have alleged, turnout has increased in most of those cases.
“The evidence strongly indicates to the contrary,” he said. “These laws give confidence to voters.”
Rep. Sydney Carlin was among the 23 people in attendance Tuesday morning. She said she’s glad the legislature decided not to move up the date on the birth certificate requirement, as Kobach had requested, in order to allow citizens more time to prepare. “I’m very relieved we didn’t change the law to require citizenship at this late date before the coming election,” Carlin said.
The Kansas law has become a model for similar laws across the nation, including Alabama and Pennsylvania. Kobach said he spoke with Alabama legislators regarding their law while Pennsylvania used the mail-in ballot portion of Kansas law as reference.
Opponents assert the law violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and will discriminate against minorities and low-income voters. The U.S. Department of Justice has barred voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina, citing discrimination against Hispanic and black voters, respectively.
The Voting Rights Act provision requiring the justice department to approve voting laws doesn’t apply to Kansas; 16 states, mostly in the South, have to follow the provision.
Kobach said he’s trying to keep the election process safe from voter fraud. He said there were 235 cases of voter fraud between 1997 and 2010 with 14 confirmed cases in 2010. Kobach said most of the cases involved double voting.
Critics consider that a low number to justify the law. Kobach disagreed and cited his belief is that for every one confirmed voting fraud, there’s at least five voter fraud instances not found.
Kobach said he’s prepared for voter suppression arguments from critics to continue. “I think there will always be people who for whatever reason disagreed with what the Kansas Legislature and those people who don’t want the security for the election process,” he said.
Carlin said it’s a very real issue, which is why she didn’t vote in favor of the act in 2011. However, she said her goal is now to make sure people aren’t afraid to vote. “I think the fear of the change may be worse than the change,” she said.
She expressed confidence that the county election officials will “go the extra mile” to help people be able to vote. More information can be found at gotvoterid.com or by calling 1-800-262-8683.