Voting test

Kansas is preparing to put its new voter ID law to the test.

Depending on how much interest there is in a sales tax election in Cimarron, there may be more media people and official “observers” than voters at the city’s single poll location on Jan. 10.

A new Kansas law requires voters to show photo identification at the polls before casting their ballots. Cimarron, a city of 2,200 about 175 miles west of Wichita, has the distinction of holding the first election in the state after the law took effect on Jan. 1.

In the election, Cimarron residents are being asked to decide whether to collect a 1.25 percent sales tax to fund the construction and operating expenses for a new municipal swimming pool. According to Gray County Clerk Bonnie Swartz, a strong turnout for the election would be 40 percent or about 480 voters.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who pushed for the voter ID requirement and a companion law that will require Kansans to prove their citizenship when registering to vote, said last week that the Cimarron vote would be a good test of the new law. He said he and his staff will be monitoring the election to see how many people come to the polls without their IDs and what other problems arise.

Cimarron, with one polling place, seven poll workers and maybe 480 voters may provide a small amount of data about the ID requirement, but that community’s Jan. 10 vote will provide only an inkling of issues that likely will arise across the state in the November 2012 presidential election. Several other local elections are planned in the next two months, including a special election on Feb. 28 in Wichita on subsidies for a hotel project. The Wichita election will perhaps provide a better test of the new ID system, but the predicted 11 percent turnout still is far short of what would be expected in August primaries and the November general election.

Interestingly, one of the main problems Swartz expects at the Cimarron polls is that voters in the small community won’t think IDs are needed “because everybody knows everybody.” The clerk, a Republican, said she doesn’t have a problem with the law but added, “There’s not rampant voter fraud.”

That opinion probably is shared by a majority of Kansans. Everyone wants clean, fair elections in the state, but they doubt that the voter fraud problem the new laws are trying to fix really existed in the first place. We don’t want illegal voting in Kansas elections, but we also don’t want to establish barriers that discourage qualified voters from casting their ballots.

The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas to make sure they aren’t being used to suppress certain segments of the vote. The Kansas law isn’t currently under review, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be carefully monitored, especially in early elections.