By Gene Meyer | Kansas Reporter
FAIRWAY — Kansas’ first statewide test of its new voter ID requirements is Tuesday, and supporters and opponents of the provisions are eagerly awaiting the results.
Backers of the new requirements say the change will enhance security; opponents say the changes will keep an unknown number of legitimate voters from exercising rights guaranteed by the U.S. and Kansas constitutions.
Pennsylvania and 28 other states with voter ID requirements are having similar debates. In Kansas, however, some Republicans speak as critically of the conservative Republican plan as do their Democratic opponents.
About 250,000 voters in Kansas are expected to head to polling sites in churches, schools, community halls and other public buildings throughout the state to choose candidates for Congress, the state Legislature, the state board of education and numerous local offices.
For the first time, people will present show photo identification before they can vote, even if the poll workers are friends or neighbors.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, and other backers of the change say requiring the photo IDs will help prevent fraud, even though specific incidents of such abuses are hard to identify, so to speak.
Opponents say the requirement will keep legitimate voters from the polls, especially older people, poor people and people of color. Finding specific incidents is, again, difficult.
Rochelle Chronister of Neodesha, is a former Kansas Republican chair and state representative. Chronister, who leads a group of 50 former lawmakers called Traditional Republicans for Common Sense, says she fears the ID law will dampen voter turnout.
“One of my concerns is that a lot of older people without drivers licenses or other IDs won’t be able to vote when they get to the polls,” Chronister said. “Our older folks are our most faithful voters, and I am very disappointed we have this law that we do not need.”
Kobach, the state’s chief election officer, says the seniors will not be denied a right to vote.
“We’ve made multiple accommodations for older voters to assure they can cast their ballots,” Kobach said.
Voters older than 65 can show an expired driver’s license or other government ID, if they don’t have current documents, he said. Kansas also maintains what’s called a permanent advanced voting list, providing mail-in ballots for people with health problems who can’t get to the polling sites.
Despite such assurances, many older people will be turned away — as will some poor people and minorities, predicts Louis Goseland, coordinator of KanVote, a Wichita based voter advocacy and registration organization.
Part of the reason is the required ID, Goseland said. Voters in poor neighborhoods are less likely to have drivers’ licenses because they don’t have a car, or a passport because they don’t travel, or college a ID because they can’t afford a higher education.
Free IDs from the Kansas Division of Motor Vehicles may not help much, either.
In Wichita, one DMV station serves nearly 161,000 eligible voters, New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice reported in a national study released last month. Nearly 7,400 of those eligible voters who live more than 10 miles from that office don’t have cars, the report said.
Potential voters might be denied ballots because the rules are new and not always perfectly understood by election workers, who are every-day people with perhaps a day or two of training, Goseland said.
“Under Kansas law, everyone who shows up is allowed to vote,” he said.
If any questions arise about whether a vote is legitimate, the ballot is counted as a provisional ballot and recorded only after the voter answers any questions.
The system works, Kobach says.
More than 68,000 Kansans have successfully cast ballots in local elections between Jan. 1 — when the new photo ID requirements began — and mid-July, when advance voting for Tuesday’s primary opened, he said. Another 65,000 people have mailed in ballots or have already voted in the primary.
“That’s more than 130,000 ballots, with no significant problems at all,” Kobach said.
Kansas polls are open Tuesday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.