Topeka — Critics of requiring photo ID to vote say such laws suppress voting, especially among the elderly and people with low incomes.
But Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Thursday the Kansas photo ID law that he shepherded through the Legislature may increase voter participation in next Tuesday’s Republican and Democratic primaries.
That is because, he said, his office’s photo ID campaign to educate voters about the law has raised the visibility of the election, which will be the first statewide test of the law.
He added, “You probably have some voters who are anxious to see how the new law works and maybe some voters who actually are excited about the new law and want to participate. So, I think the photo ID law is probably elevating turnout, slightly.”
But Ernestine Krehbiel, president of the League of Women Voters-Kansas, disagreed.
Krehbiel said she is concerned that elderly voters who don’t have driver’s licenses or other forms of photo ID will be unable to vote.
“We are not opposed to photo ID, but we are opposed to having it shoved down very fast, instead of going at it in a calm manner,” she said.
Kobach said he doubted many voters would not have ID, but he said for those who don’t, they can still cast a provisional ballot and get the ID within the next few days to have their votes count.
But Krehbiel said some elderly and low-income Kansans would be unable to get the necessary documents together in time to get the state-issued, free non-driver’s license ID and have their votes count. Statewide, 32 people have received this kind of ID.
Douglas County is tackling the photo ID requirement by becoming the first county in the state to issue its own ID cards for voters.
This will allow voters who don’t have a photo ID to avoid having to go to the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles. The Douglas County ID card also won’t require voters to produce a birth certificate to receive a photo ID. Under the system, Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew will accept a current utility bill, bank statement, government check or other government documents that show a name or address.
Kobach said he supported the effort by Douglas County.
“It is a valid government-issued ID,” he said. “The only concerns we would have, would be if a governmental unit were issuing the IDs without a requisite checking to ensure that a person was actually establishing who he or she says she is. But we are satisfied that Douglas County is doing that,” he said.
Kobach’s comments were made during a news conference in which he predicted a paltry 18 percent of registered voters will vote in the primaries.
But that’s not because of photo ID, he said. He said part of the reason for the projected low voter turnout is that congressional races have been low key.
None of the four incumbent U.S. House members faces a Republican primary opponent. The most contested congressional race is the three-candidate field in the Democratic primary for Congressional District 2, which includes Douglas County.
And even though there is intense competition between moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans in state House and Senate races, Kobach said legislative races don’t necessarily drive people to the polls.
Kobach said another indicator of a low turnout is that advance voting has been low.
He predicted about 310,000 Kansans will vote in the primaries out of 1.7 million registered voters. Primary election turnout for the last decade has been 26 percent in 2002; 30 percent in 2004; 18.1 percent in 2006; 22.45 percent in 2008; and 25.2 percent in 2010.
— Statehouse reporter Scott Rothschild can be reached at 785-423-0668.