Thursday, July 19, 2012

Report criticizes voter ID law in Kansas, other states

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA — Thousands of eligible voters in Kansas may be denied their right to vote because of the law that requires a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot, according to a report released Wednesday.

"Let’s be clear: Election integrity is vital. The problem is not requiring voter ID, per se — the problem is requiring ID that many voters simply do not have," said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

"Study after study confirms that one in 10 eligible voters lack these specific government documents," Waldman said.

The study said hundreds of thousands of voters in 10 states with "unprecedented restrictive voter ID laws" will have trouble getting the IDs because they don't have access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest state ID-issuing office that is open more than two days a week.

"Federal courts have previously declared that states with restrictive voter ID laws must make the necessary paperwork available for free. Problem solved? Hardly," said Waldman.

He said, "This report conclusively demonstrates that this promise of free voter ID is a mirage. In the real world, poor voters find shuttered offices, long drives without cars, and with spotty or no bus service, and sometimes prohibitive costs. For these Americans, the promise of our democracy is tangibly distant. It can be measured in miles."

In Kansas, a registered voter who doesn't have a photo ID can get a free non-driver ID card from the Division of Motor Vehicles if they have proof of identity and residence. Those who lack proof of identity but were born in Kansas may apply for a free birth certificate.

But the Brennan report states that in downtown Wichita there is only one office to serve 160,700 eligible voters, which is eight times times the customer base of the average office statewide.

That produces long lines and waits to obtain free identification required for voting, the report stated.

In addition, 7,373 voting-age Kansans have no vehicle and live more than 10 miles away from offices where they can get state-issued IDs.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, pushed for passage of voter ID, saying it was needed to prevent voter fraud and illegal immigrants from voting.

The new report came out on the same day that a judge in Wisconsin declared that state's voter ID law unconstitutional.

Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan ruled that state’s requirement that all voters show photo ID at the polls creates a “substantial impairment of the right to vote” guaranteed by the state Constitution, The Associated Press reported.

Wisconsin voters who do not have a driver’s license or other photo ID can get one without charge from the state. But Flanagan said that birth certificates are required to get the IDs and voters who don’t have them must pay for them. He said more than 300,000 voters do not have an acceptable form of ID.

“The cost and the difficulty of obtaining documents necessary to apply for a (Division of Motor Vehicles) photo ID is a substantial burden which falls most heavily upon low-income individuals,” he wrote.