Voting hurdles

The new Kansas secretary of state needs to quantify both the problem posed by voter fraud and the cost of the solutions he proposes.

Maintaining the integrity of elections in Kansas certainly is important. If there are significant problems of any kind — voting or voter registration fraud, defective counting equipment, malfunctioning voting touch screens, significant clerical errors or anything else — the state should take reasonable steps to eliminate them.

In the state’s current financial condition, however, legislators must think carefully before moving forward on legislation proposed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach that would spend an undetermined amount of state resources to correct a problem that hasn’t been documented or measured.

Although Kobach hasn’t presented any evidence of how serious or widespread voter fraud is in Kansas, he has proposed sweeping legislation “to secure the integrity of Kansas elections.” His proposed legislation would require voters to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote and a photo ID at the polls on Election Day. The bill also includes new requirements for mail-in ballots.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eight states currently request or require photo identification at the polls; Oklahoma will join that list on July 1. Eighteen states require an ID but not a photo. Kansas only requires first-time voters to show identification when they register and at the polls.

Many Kansans may think that requiring voters to present an ID every time they vote isn’t unreasonable, but some studies contend that ID requirements suppress voter turnout, especially for low-income and elderly residents. Kobach has tried to address that concern with a provision that would supply free state IDs or birth certificates to people in those groups. He didn’t, however, know how much it would cost the state to provide that service.

The bill’s requirements for voter registration might not cost the state more, but it would pass on additional costs to county election officials who must deal with proof of citizenship. The provision not only would create an additional hurdle for qualified voters who want to register, it also could interfere with voter registration efforts like those provided locally by the League of Women Voters of Lawrence/Douglas County.

The new rules on mail-in ballots likely would have its greatest impact on elderly and disabled voters who find it difficult to physically come to the polls. People applying for a mail-in ballot must provide an identification number and a signature that matches the county’s registration record. Verifying that information, again, would pass additional work and expense on to county election officials.

Kobach’s bill also would increase the penalties for voter fraud, but a more reasonable step might be for Kobach simply to enforce the state’s current laws more vigorously. That would give him — and the rest of the state — a chance to see how widespread the problem is and how best to solve whatever problem exists.

Given the low voter turnout in most local and state elections, it would be a shame to pass laws that discouraged participation by qualified, legal Kansas voters. If Kansas has a problem with voter fraud, it should be addressed, but until that problem can be defined, it doesn’t make sense to pass laws that will set new voting barriers and increase costs for county and state election officials.