Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told a Lawrence audience today that a new law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls and for new voters to show proof of citizenship when they register has made Kansas elections more secure and reliable.
"I think we in Kansas can say we've got the nation's most secure system," Kobach said during a Downtown Rotary Club luncheon at Holiday Inn Lawrence.
Kobach was the principal driver behind the 2011 "Safe and Fair Elections Act," or SAFE Act, that imposed new requirements on voters. He said the law is intended to prevent voter fraud and to ensure that all ballots cast in Kansas elections are from eligible voters.
But many people have criticized the law, saying it has prevented otherwise qualified voters from casting ballots, and a local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has notified Kobach that it intends to file a constitutional challenge to the law in federal court.
Kobach, however, suggested the law has had little impact on most people's ability to vote, despite the fact that 17,083 people who have attempted to register since the proof-of-citizenship requirement took effect Jan. 1 have had their registrations placed "in suspense" because they have not shown citizenship documents.
“As a former professor, and I'm sure as some of the other professors in this room would probably agree, it's kind of in human nature among a lot of us to procrastinate,” Kobach said. “And if a lot of people aren't planning on voting until the next even-numbered (year) election … they may be thinking 'what's the hurry?'”
Kobach also dismissed criticism that the photo ID requirement has been a burden. He noted that in the 2012 general election only 532 ballots were not counted, out of 1.2 million ballots cast, because the voters did not bring photo ID to the polls and did not provide one later, before the county canvasses were completed.
“That's really not that surprising,” Kobach said, suggesting that once people know the outcome of an election, they might not bother to come up with their IDs if they know it won't affect the outcome of a race.
Of those, he said, a check of motor vehicle records showed that all but about 30 actually had driver's licenses they could have used. And of the remaining 30, he said, all but two had some other form of ID they could have used in order to vote.
During a question-and-answer session, one person in the audience cited a national study from 2006 that found that as many as 11 percent of U.S. adults, or about 21 million people, do not have a government-issued photo ID. The study said that group included a high proportion of senior citizens, disabled individuals, minorities and the poor.
But Kobach dismissed that criticism because the study is seven years old, and the experience in Kansas has been much better.
He also said that most of the 17,083 people whose registrations have been held up are people who attempted to register when they applied for a driver's license. The Division of Vehicles in the Kansas Department of Revenue uses a standard federal voter registration form, which does not ask for proof of citizenship.
Kobach noted that Kansas and Arizona are currently suing the federal Election Assistance Commission, seeking a court order to compel that agency to provide the states with forms that include a proof-of-citizenship question.