Saturday, January 22, 2011

Kansas Secretary of State Kobach responds to arguments against Voter ID Bill; calls them "ridiculous"

Last Wednesday, members of the Kansas Voter Coalition traveled to Topeka to speak out against the proposed Voter ID bill. Speakers included Kari Ann Rinker from the Kansas Chapter of the National Organization for Women, Ernestine Kreihbel - President of the Kansas League of Women Voters,  Holly Weatherford from the Kansas ACLU, and Kevin Myles from the Kansas State NAACP.

During the press conference, we (NAACP) raised the issue of Voter Caging and how that might be facilitated by this bill. Caging is an illegal voter suppression tactic that involves the challenging of voter qualifications on the basis of address and database discrepancies.

This is hardly a stretch, considering in December of 2007, then Chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, Kris Kobach sent out an email to his supporters that was forwarded to some members of the press and reported in more than a dozen online publications. In this email, it was reported that then Party Chairman Kobach bragged that, "Our voter identification system is up and running giving us the capability to effectively mobilize voters and turn them out to vote on Election Day. To date, the Kansas GOP has identified and caged more voters in the last 11 months than the previous two years!"

Secretary Kobach responded to reports of the Press Conference by saying that opponents should 'read the bill' and that our allegations were ridiculous.

To be clear, we are not opposed to efforts to ensure the integrity of our voting system in principle, we are opposed to the specific plans that the Secretary has put forth. In brief, I will highlight a few of the major issues with this proposal, then contrast the proposal against some simple low cost reforms that would accomplish the same goal.

  • The Current System is secure: According to Secretary Kobach, there have been 80 reports of voter fraud in Kansas over the last 10 years. But of those 80 reports, only 3 have been successfully prosecuted. That means that more than 96% of the cases reported in Kansas were investigated and deemed to be unfounded. In fact, there has been only 1 successful prosecution in the last 6 years and that person wasn't even an immigrant. In fact, the previous two Secretaries of State, one Democrat and one Republican, have each stated publicly that voter fraud is not a real issue in Kansas. 
  • Photo ID laws are ineffective: Photo ID laws are designed to protect against one very specific type of voter fraud, and that's Voter Impersonation. You have people produce a photo ID so that the officials can visually verify that the person is who they say they are and is not an identity thief. Kansas has NEVER prosecuted a voter impersonation case. The odds against an illegal immigrant coming into the country, then assuming some else's identity, then going to polls to vote under their name (after having mastered their signature), and risking arrest and prosecution if the person they're impersonating has already voted, are astronomical. The most common form of voter fraud is when a person votes multiple times. BUT, If a person were to try and vote multiple times, there is NOTHING in this current proposal that would change or strengthen any part of our system that would detect or preclude that type of fraud. In fact, we would still be reliant on the safeguards currently in place to deal with that scenario. Safeguards that have already proven secure - as evidenced by that fact that there is no plan to change them. All this bill would do is increase the penalties. 
  • The Cost: The Secretary has not publicly come out and discussed the costs of his proposal. But the State of Missouri has a law on it's books that is similar to what we are facing and I have obtained a copy of their fiscal note. Implementation cost the State of Missouri nearly 6 million dollars in the first year with costs near 4 million for each of the next two years! CLICK HERE to download a copy so you can see it for yourself. At a time when we have a $550,000,000 budget deficit, the Secretary would have us spend upwards of ten million dollars to strengthen a system that has already proved secure and to protect it against a nearly impossible hypothetical situation.
  • Voter Suppression/Reduction in Voter Turnout: This one should concern people the most. For while we should be concerned if even a single fraudulent vote is cast, we should be even more concerned if even a single legal voter is disenfranchised. And that is because voting is considered one of our most fundamental constitutional rights. No law, no tariff, and no ordinance should ever be imposed that would deprive any American citizen of the franchise. But in all of the states where they have Voter ID bills on the books, they each experience reductions in Voter turn-out. Why? Consider the provisions in this proposed bill. Door to door canvasing and traditional get-out-the-vote activities, practices which date back more than a hundred years, would be virtually eliminated. The Secretary's proposed bill requires that an Election Officer certify a persons immigration status at the time of registration. Now that's not particularly onerous, but the trick is the bill specifies that their status must be confirmed by submission of the actual drivers license (in person) or by a photo-copy of their license. Now that same information could be obtained if that person submitted the driver license number - but that would not be allowed under the Secretary's proposal. The language in Section 7, KSA 2010, Supp. 25-2309 subparagraphs L through Q (new additions to the statute) would disallow the submission of a driver's license number and would require a photo copy of the card.  Which would mean that if a group or organization wanted to set up a table to register people to vote at a fair or a community forum, the prospective voters would have to have brought a photo copy of their license with them or they couldn't be registered!  Also consider that the bill states that ALL voters will now show their drivers license at the polling place, and that if their is a discrepancy between their driver's license and the information contained in the Voter Registration records (such as an address change), you would only be able to vote on a provisional ballot unless you had a copy of your utility bill there with you. In the States with these laws on the books, they find that many people, after standing in line to vote, then finding out that they can't, simply can't or don't go home and come back to stand in line again with more paperwork and documentation. Their votes are just lost. BTW - the act of disqualifying voters based technical discrepancies such as address changes is known as caging, which is technically illegal, but would be permissible under this proposal.

Now if the goal is truly to ensure that only legally registered voters are allowed to participate in our elections, we could easily accomplish that goal without spending $10,000,000.00, without disenfranchising anyone, and without consenting to the power-grab requested by the Secretary of State who has requested new prosecution powers in his nearly 40 page bill. If this is really about securing our elections, consider these easy alternatives:

  • The State could require the inclusion of a full drivers license number on all registration applications, and require voters to produce their voter registration cards, which are produced and distributed by the SOS after verifying immigration status, at the polls.(no additional costs, no caging, and no reduction in registrations or turn-out)
  • The State could enforce the National Voter Registration Act and register people when the receive their Driver Licenses, then there would be no discrepancies between databases - no caging, and no loss of turn out.

What truly is ridiculous is that we are being asked to spend millions of tax-payer dollars, at a time when we are operating with a $550,000,000 budget shortfall, to implement a voter impersonation prevention program, despite the fact that we've never actually prosecuted anybody for voter impersonation. And that we are being asked to simultaneously consolidate brand new powers into the Secretary of State's Office despite the fact that we have no shortage of Attorneys in Topeka and that there is no reason why the Attorney General's office could not continue to perform its statutory role and function without the assistance of Mr. Kobach. And it is also ridiculous that the bill would hamper voter canvassing and get out the vote activities, and result in some legally registered voters being offered provisional ballots or being turned away at the polls, yet the Secretary and his supporters are incredulous when presented with the obvious implications of the language that they are publicly supporting. And it is truly ridiculous that we could easily secure our elections without the cost or risk of disenfranchising anyone yet the Secretary and his supporters continue the ruse, claiming that this bloated 40 page, multi-million dollar monstrosity is in our best interest.

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