It’s 104 degrees Fahrenheit in Wichita. We have been canvassing for several weeks. Wichita’s streets are broad and mostly shaded by trees. We knocked on a lot of doors and left a lot of flyers. Most people we talked to were friendly. The redistricting has shaken up all of the campaigns and most of the voters. Voters are unsure of what district they live in, where their polling place is, and who is running. Most people in Wichita are very concerned about jobs and the economy. Education is also another hot button issue. Another serious concern in this election is the new laws about voter registration and identification.
In 2011, Kansas passed the Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) Act. The law made substantial changes in the ways Kansans vote, both in person and by mail, and register to vote. Starting January 1, 2012, Kansans have to supply a state issued form of photo identification. To vote by mail, voters have to provide a copy of their driver’s license number or non-driver ID number and have their signature verified. This means they have to fill out a form, mail it to their local election board and have the signature they verified against signature records. People who are registering to vote for the first time must provide proof that they are American citizens. To do this they send the Secretary of State’s office a copy of their birth certificate, naturalization papers, or some other form of identification that verifies their citizenship such as a passport or driver’s license. The state has agreed to provide free birth certificates for people who are trying to register to vote. This policy does nothing to help people who were born out of state and must ask their home states to send their birth certificate. A full list of requirements and types of id that voters can provide can be found here.
Kansas does not need such harsh restrictions on voting. Even Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who championed the act, claims that there were only 221 cases of suspected voter fraud between 1997 and 2010. The Wichita Eagle and the Sedgwick County Election Board investigated the local cases, including a claim by Kobach that a dead man in Wichita had voted recently. A Wichita Eagle reporter found the “dead man” alive and well. An editorial reports that the cases that Kobach identified were only reports of possible fraud and not actual findings of fraud. Voter fraud is clearly not a serious problem. But, Voter turnout is a problem. Even in major elections, only a small percentage of the voting age population will turn out to vote. Laws that make it more difficult for citizens to vote are a form of voter suppression. They are more likely to effect poor people, minorities, elderly people and disabled people. These voters are likely to have a harder time going to the polls and having the required identification when they get there. It can be a major hardship to obtain one of these forms of ID if you don’t already have a state issued ID or if that ID is expired. The fact is that these laws will be another deterrent to voters who already feel disenfranchised. Why would politicians want less people to vote? If less people in general are voting, than you have to mobilize less of your base in order to win an election. You can also make laws that target voters who are likely to support your opponents. The United States has a long history of depriving people of their constitutional right to vote, and Kansas’s voter ID laws are just another chapter in that history. Voting may not seem very worthwhile, but it is the best way to elect candidates who won’t elect laws that chip away at reproductive freedom.