A proposal to require Kansas voters to present a photo identification at the polls may be trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist - and perhaps creating some new problems in the process.
State Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, is chairman of the Senate Elections and Local Government Committee and has proposed the ID measure in response, at least in part, to concerns that illegal immigrants are voting in Kansas elections. Although there is no proof that is happening, he said, requiring identification would "enhance the confidence of the citizens of Kansas in our election process."
Preserving voter confidence is an important goal, especially in light of reports of voter fraud and concern about the vulnerability of computerized voting systems. Every effort should be made to have a secure, reliable voting system for all eligible voters, but the measure under consideration may make voting more inconvenient without enhancing voter security.
Currently voters must present identification either when they register or the first time they vote. The process must be repeated if the voter moves. It's not a foolproof system, but there isn't any evidence of widespread illegal voting in the state.
Perhaps some illegal immigrants are coming to the polls, but it seems unlikely that many people living in the state illegally would risk detection by trying to register or cast a ballot. Huelskamp's proposal also would accept a broad variety of photo IDs - some of them quite easily forged: a drivers license, an employment badge, a credit card, a passport, a public assistance card, a military ID or identification from a neighborhood association, a retirement center, a school or a buyer's club. It hardly seems like the most secure system.
Requiring IDs also could deter many legally registered voters from casting ballots by increasing lines and delays at the polls. Legal voters who could not produce an ID could cast only a provisional ballot that might or might not be declared valid later. Their only other option would be to go home, get an ID and return to the polls, a process many wouldn't bother with.
Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat who also is a member of the Elections Committee, noted this week that she had been a poll worker many times over the last 20 years and never encountered a problem with someone trying to vote illegally. If problems are being reported across the state, we should examine and try to solve specific problems, not pass legislation that may miss the mark.
On the surface of it, requiring a photo ID doesn't seem too much to ask of people who want to vote. Voting is a great privilege. Unfortunately, it's a privilege that many people already choose to bypass. With a statewide turnout in the November general election of about 52 percent of registered voters, it doesn't seem like Kansas should be looking for new reasons to turn people away from the polls.