By Gene Meyer | Kansas Reporter
FAIRWAY — Douglas County has become Kansas’ first — and so far only — county to issue photo ID cards for voters.
Legislation last year allowed Kansas to issue the cards to voters who didn’t have a driver’s license or other photo ID.
County-level election officials were given that authority, as well.
The Kansas Department of Revenue generates most of the cards, which cost about $8 apiece and are paid for with money from drivers’ license fees.
Douglas County on Monday issued its first card, to a man officials did not identify but described as an older person with no state-recognized photo ID.
“We wanted to be proactive,” says Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew, who created the plan allowing local government officials to issue the ID cards.
Until now, the cards came from the same state agency that spits out drivers’ licenses to applicants.
Kansas is scheduled to transfer drivers’ license and voter ID operations to the same Department of Revenue computer system that, since May, has mostly caused long lines and short tempers.
Kansas shut down its motor vehicle licensing and titling operations for a week in May to switch over to a new $40 million computer network, which it bought from 3M Co. That delay, plus some early technical problems and additional training required for DMV workers, has turned routine title and license renewal transactions into hours-long ordeals the past three months in many of the state’s busiest DMV offices.
“We don’t intend to replace anything the state is doing,” said Shew in Lawrence. “But we did want to make the IDs available to more people at times and on days when the DMV wasn’t opened.”
Shrew’s office also plans to organize a mobile van to bring ID-issuing capacity to nursing homes, which have higher percentages of residents without the ID cards required by the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act of 2011, or SAFE act.
“We’re happy with what they’re doing, but not really encouraging other counties to do the same thing,” said Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the state’s chief elections officer.
“Their (Douglas County) standards (for issuing voter identification cards) seem to pretty much match ours,” Kobach said. “But this isn’t necessary because free IDs are available in Douglas County.”
Kansas has about 1.7 million voters. Historically, far fewer than half vote in statewide primaries, such as the one scheduled Aug. 7.
Many voters already have the identification they need — Kansas drivers’ licenses, U.S. passports, military and school or college IDs. Kansas’ Secretary of State’s website has a more complete list.
Researchers at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice estimated last week that as many as 11 percent of the nation’s otherwise eligible voters don’t have photo IDs, which 31 states require. Many are too poor to drive or go to college and others live too far from DMV offices or other places where the IDs are available, the report said.
That would work out to 187,000 Kansas voters, if the same percentage applied here.
Kobach says the actual number is far lower. By his count, 2.16 million voting age people have a Kansas driver’s licenses or state-issued nondriving ID cards — about 30,000 more people than actually live in the state.
“Those would be people who’ve moved away but are still using their unexpired licenses,” Kobach said.
“Then look at how many free IDs we’ve issued to voters who’ve requested them since the law went into effect,” he said. “That’s 40. In seven months.”