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. 

Women under-represented in elected government positions on state, national level

By Nikki Wentling

For a closer look at the daily responsibilities of an assistant city administrator, watch the video below. 

 

Cynthia Wagner made her career choice during Easter dinner when she was 19 years old. Wagner was a journalism student at the University of Kansas, but after an hour spent with the city manager of her hometown during the holiday meal, her focus changed. She went back to campus to begin her path to a career in local government.

Wagner is now the Lawrence assistant city manager. She and her fellow assistant city manager Diane Stoddard have each been involved in local government for more than 20 years. However, women are traditionally under-represented in government on the local, state and national level.

When Wagner graduated from the Master’s in Public Administration program in the early 1990s, there were two other women in her class.

“It was predominantly men,” she said. “But this year’s class is mostly women.”

Although the number of women in local government increased in the past decade, female participation in U.S. Congress and state legislatures has plateaued. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, the proportion of women in state legislatures is 23.6 percent, down from a peak of 24.5 percent in 2010, and U.S. Congress has maintained a rate of 16.8 percent female since 2009.

“We’ve been stagnant now for a number of election cycles, and very stagnant in the House in terms of elected women. That percentage has almost flat lined,” said Mary Banwart, an associate professor of leadership studies at the University of Kansas.

 Why under-representation exists

Banwart researches the influence of gender in political campaigns and received a Carrie Chapman Catt Prize in 2000 for her research on women in politics. She said that less women hold elected positions because women do not run, and if they do run, it takes them longer to reach higher positions.

“Maybe they will start out at a mayoral level, but it may take them a while to run for a higher office,” Banwart said. “Men have a tendency to be much more confident and just jump right in and run.”

The Kansas chapter National Organization for Women (NOW) was established to lobby for equal rights and responsibility for women in society. Linda Joslin, president of the Wichita NOW, believes women who run for office have a lower chance of getting elected than their male counterparts.

“Women have to work very, very hard to be taken seriously,” Joslin said.

Banwart said women thinking about running for office one day should be involved in leadership positions while in school. She teaches a political communications class, which she said gives students a look at what a career in public service would be.  The class is divided up into five teams — four campaign teams and a media team — and one member from each group “runs” for governor of Kansas.

“This year we have a female candidate, and she is the frontrunner,” Banwart said. “I’m excited about that.”

However, Banwart also said that a political science degree is not the only route to a career in government. She has found that many women shy away from public service because they did not take political science classes. Banwart believes that no matter a person’s field of study, there is a place for anyone in government.

“You’ve got to find your passion and work on making a contribution to your community in terms of where your passion is because that’s going to be the most authentic place to come from,” she said.

Through her research, Banwart has found that women are less likely to admit they are informed about politics than men are. She said it is important to be interested in current events.

“Keep yourself knowledgeable about what’s happening in the world around you and do what it takes to develop a level of confidence that you can make a contribution,” she said.

 Recent controversy highlights absence of women

NOW encourages women to be active members of their communities, including running for public office. Joslin said progress has been stilted by the current state and national administrations, which “have us going full speed backwards.” After recent controversy over contraception on Capitol Hill, several female congress members echoed the same sentiments.

A hearing was held on Feb. 16 to discuss whether President Obama hurt religious freedoms by mandating health insurance companies to cover contraception. After the hearing, a photo of the all-male panel of witnesses circulated the web, and the under-representation of women in government became visible.

The Washington Post reported thatMinority Rep. Carolyn Maloney accused the Republican committee chairman of attempting to “roll back the fundamental rights of women.”

Joslin said women should make the decisions regarding female health.

“Women need to be able to make decisions about their own lives and their bodies without other politicians telling everybody what they can and can’t do. I see that most of the things that are done are efforts to control women, and put women back where they were,” Joslin said. “But our society has evolved, and that’s just not going to happen.”

Banwart said that it could happen. Fewer women will become prominent in elected positions, she said, until the nation changes their perceptions on what females are able to contribute to society.

“Until we shift the mindset of our young women in high school and our young women in college and even our young women in junior high and talk to them about their level of contribution and the role they can play, I don’t see that we’re going to have huge increases in women serving in elected positions,” Banwart said.

How woman can contribute

Banwart said when a woman holds a statistically significant position, people are more likely to collaborate and work through disagreements. Through research, she has also discovered that when women are present, there tends to be a greater development of commonality and the environment is more inclusive.

“Until we decide as a society that we’re able to fully value that,” she said, “then I don’t think we’re going to make dramatic gains in seeing women elected at higher levels of office.”

Local involvement not out-of-reach

Wagner gained inspiration for public service through her mother, who was involved in local government throughout Wagner’s childhood. She said it was the women in the 1970s who were the trailblazers and opened the door for the women now to take part.  Stoddard believes that women should feel no hesitation in running for public office.

“I think the scene is changing in regard to women,” she said. “I think there is really no reason why women should feel any kind of impediment to local government.”

Agricultural child labor restrictions to limit opportunities of hired help

Click here to listen to an interview with Kerri Ebert, extension assistant at K-State Research and Extension.

By Nikki Wentling

Berryton, Kan. — Every day after school, Lane Deghand drives the 20 miles to Rocking H Ranch farm, where he works as a hired hand for the Wulfkuhle’s livestock operation. He operates machinery, drives motor vehicles and helps in the silos and with livestock exchanges – all of which would be prohibited under the new restrictions proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The DOL introduced additions to the Agricultural Child Labor Hazardous Occupations Orders (H.O.s) in Sept. 2011. The H.O.s, which were established in 1970, now place additional limitations on the activities of non-relative hired help under the age of 16. The additional restrictions and penalties for violations could cause youth like Deghand to lose their jobs, something Brenna Wulfkuhle, who runs the farm with her husband Mike,  said is a detriment to the future of farming.

“I don’t know where our future is going to be,” she said. “If you want to go into farming, you have to have a background in farming.”

Ten years ago, Bryan Fishburn started working for the Wulfkuhles through a Future Farmers of America program as a sophomore in high school. Today, he is still an employee of Rocking H Ranch and owns 150 acres of his own property. If the new restrictions are applied, Deghand may not be allowed a similar experience.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for this kid,” Wulfkuhle said. “He pulled his grades up in order to stay working. He wouldn’t have that opportunity otherwise because he’s not from a family farm.”

Department of Labor reevaluates parental exemption

The DOL has received more than 18,000 letters of complaint since the new rules were proposed five months ago. Kansas Senators Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts signed a letter to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, which called for the dismissal of all changes to the H.O.s.

“It received a tremendous amount of pressure from congressional delegations especially in farm belt states,” said Kerri Ebert, extension assistant with K-State Research and Extension.

Kansas’s government entities are also against the restrictions. Gov. Sam Brownback, along with Attorney General Derek Schmidt and the secretaries of agriculture, labor and commerce sent a letter that said the restrictions would have a “negative effect on youth seeking to work in Kansas agriculture – the state’s largest industry.”

“Sec. Rodman has major concerns about the child labor rules. If implemented, the rules would impose overly burdensome restrictions on many common farm activities,” said Chelsea Good, communications director for the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

The DOL issued a statement that said it would take time reviewing comments and repurposing sections of the restrictions that are under scrutiny. It is currently reevaluating the parental exemption portion of the restrictions, which has been the main source of complaints. Ebert said the process of reevaluation would continue into the next calendar year.

“We need to find a balance of how we can keep children safe without burdensome regulations from our government,” she said. “We need to find some way to make everybody happy. Make the regulators happy that they’ve done what they need to do to protect children and make the agricultural community happy that they’re not being overburdened.”

Data supports each side

Ebert also said there is a need for some of these new restrictions. According to National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety 2011 Fact Sheet, agriculture has the second highest fatality rate among youth workers.

“I don’t think anyone would dismiss that farming is dangerous. It’s highly industrialized, highly mechanized and someone needs to be watching out for safety,” she said.

However, the fact sheet also shows that childhood agricultural injuries have declined by 59 percent in the past 11 years, and that 75 percent of injured children were not actively working when the injury occurred.

“There are some things in agriculture that are dangerous, but in everything you do in life there is a risk,” Wulfkuhle said. “We don’t put anybody out there thinking that something’s going to happen, it’s just that sometimes accidents happen.”

Learning experiences continue

For now, Deghand will continue on as an employee for Rocking H Ranch. He will learn how to work a livestock operation and develop the traits Wulfkuhle said are necessary to succeed on a farm and in life.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Wulfkuhle said. “Some of these kids that work for us, they can’t find a job anywhere else. Here, they get practical knowledge, practical skills. There’s so much work ethic that’s learned from farming. I think a lot of those basic traits that we need to be successful are going to be gone.”