Coalition opposes voter ID law, election commissioners adjust to change

By Nikki Wentling

Kansas NAACP President Glenda Overstreet looked on as members of the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and the AARP, along with students and legislators, rallied against the voter identification law at the Capitol on Wednesday, March 28.

The crowd assembled, waved signs and chanted to show their aversion to a law that Secretary of State Kris Kobach said will  “give confidence to voters and candidates alike that the system is fair.”

Overstreet listened as Topeka NAACP President Ben Scott spoke at the rally — a gathering which focused on the recently introduced amendment that would put the law into effect earlier than planned. She heard him summarize a conflict she has dealt with since last spring, a contention for a “free vote.”

“The SAFE law is not safe. It’s dangerous, it oppresses and it smells like a poll tax,” Scott said.

Overstreet testified against the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act (SAFE act) last March. She organized rallies across the state and coordinated each NAACP branch to converge on state bureaus to prevent its approval. Despite her efforts, Senate passed the SAFE act with a vote of 36 to three in March 2011. The law will require people to prove U.S. citizenship when registering to vote and show photographic identification at the polls.

Now, more than a year after the first defeat, she is in opposition to a proposal that would change the enactment date of the citizenship portion of the law from January 2013 to June 2012 — just in time for the 2012 presidential election. For Overstreet, the struggle against what she says is a “miscarriage of justice” is not yet over.

“We will fight like hell to make sure that the amendment doesn’t pass,” she said.

 Implementation of law not a concern

According to the National Council of State Legislature, 34 states introduced voter identification legislation in 2011, and Kansas was one of three that enacted new ID requirements. In January 2012, the portion of the law mandating a photo ID at the polls was introduced. If voting by mail, citizens must now have their signature verified and include a copy of a photo ID.

County election officials are preparing for the new requirements by training staff to recognize who is exempt from the requirement, what is considered a valid ID and what to do if voters do not possess a photo ID.

“My biggest challenge will be to subprogram my poll workers from the way things used to be and what they will now be required to do,” said Janet Rumple, President of the Kansas County Clerks and Election Officials.

Rumple said that the implementation challenges are not something she is worried about.

“We will get through it just like all the other changes that we are confronted with,” she said.

Coalition plans to appeal

In an interview with NPR, Kobach said the law was established to prevent voter fraud, of which there have been 221 cases in the state from 1997 to 2012. Overstreet said this amount of fraud does not constitute a reform to the voting process.

“I think he is being fraudulent to the people of Kansas by saying that,” she said. “We have over two million people in Kansas and you’re talking about 200 cases of fraud requiring a massive issue like this? No.”

Overstreet is not alone in her views. A coalition of a half-dozen groups has formed to appeal the law. The coalition sees it as an unnecessary measure that targets minorities, women and the poor.

According to the Moderate Alliance of Informed Neighbors, a nonpartisan organization out of Shawnee, Kan., 221,910 people — 13 percent of registered voters — do not have photo ID. The coalition is concerned that the cost of the documents required to receive a free ID will be too much for these voters and will lead to decreased turnout at the polls.

However, the first election held using the new requirements produced an above-average turnout.

First use of new requirements deemed a success

Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said she thought the increased numbers were a result of the media attention drawn to the election because of the new law, but she does not anticipate a decrease in participation in future elections.

Lehman was a proponent of the SAFE act, and testified for its approval last spring.

“I believe that it’s long overdue for people to have to show ID,” she said. “We had a gap in the law. We couldn’t prove that there had been any voter fraud, but there could have been.”

Most people, Lehman said, did not have a problem with producing a photo ID.

“We’ve seen people coming in for years asking, ‘Why don’t I have to show an ID?,'” Lehman said. “So, those people were very happy, but of course the people who felt that the law was wrong were not.”

There were setbacks in the Wichita election; seventeen voters did not bring a photo ID. Lehman said those people filled out provisional ballots, which were set aside. After the election, poll workers searched for those voters in their records and found that 16 were registered.

“We only had one we really felt did not possess an ID,” Lehman said.

During canvassing, when the board reviews and certifies the vote totals, the canvassers voted on whether or not to count the ballots of those 16 people who did not present a photo ID.

“Their ballots did not count,” Lehman said.

This, Overstreet said, is exactly what she fears.

“This harms all Kansans, although all Kansans don’t know that,” Overstreet said of the SAFE act. “It harms everyone because when you have a law like this, it has a tendency to stop a few people from voting. You have a miscarriage of justice, a society where people have a higher or larger voice than others. Everybody loses. It is not just the people without the vote.”

Debate about amendment not yet over

The House Committee’s amendment to put the law into effect this June will be debated beginning April 25. Overstreet said she and the NAACP plan to educate the community, make efforts to appeal the law, and bring forth legal representation to argue against the amendment.

“It is not for the people of Kansas that Kobach has made this law,” she said. “He has a political agenda, and it’s too bad, because he is supposed to represent all people of the state of Kansas.”

During her time spent in legislative sessions across the nation, Overstreet said lobbyists, legislators and fellow NAACP members chided her for being from a state that passed a voter identification law. The effect of the voter ID law on Kansas’ reputation motivates Overstreet to continue her resistance of the SAFE act.

“It is really embarrassing to know that people see Kansas in that light,” Overstreet said. “That is what we are fighting against.”

Click the map for a closer look at the requirements of the five states with strict voter identification laws. 

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1 Comment

  1. Jase Runion

     /  April 24, 2012

    I truly appreciate this article.Thanks Again. Cool.

    Reply

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