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Debating Strict Kansas Voting Laws: Secure Elections Or Unnecessary Restrictions To The Ballot?

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach makes his victory speech at a Republican watch party Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, in Topeka, Kan.

CREDIT: AP/Charlie Riedel.

Under Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), Kansas is subject to some of the strictest voting procedures in the nation. Since 2012, Kansas has required voters to show photo ID at the polls. Additionally, Kansas requires new voters to provide identification measures at registration to combat fraud such as a birth certificate, passport, or other papers documenting their U.S. citizenship since 2013.

Kobach, who was a former law professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City and was Attorney General John Ashcroft’s chief adviser on immigration law and border security from 2001 to 2003, won office in 2001 as a conservative candidate with a platform that strongly prioritized election fraud and rigorous voter identification measures as a key goal of his administration.

Recently, Kobach instructed county election officials to begin canceling more than 31,000 registrations from prospective voters that had been incomplete more than 90 days. In addition, Kobach’s office filed three cases several weeks ago for alleged instances of “double-voting” and is in the process of prosecuting more cases within the coming months.

While Kobach has defended these steps as necessary to combating voter fraud, many would argue that the stringent voting laws—from strict citizenship identification registration requirements to the mandate to show photo ID before casting a ballot to the recent recall of thousands of prospective voters—are unnecessary and discriminatory by attempting to discourage voters’ access to the polls. These discouraging effects are seen particularly among young people, people of low income, and minorities and immigrants who may not have easy accessibility to the required documents necessary for registration or other barriers before or during the voting process.

Douglas Bonney, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said in an article for the New York Times that the voting requirements have impacted young voters by creating a “massive wall for them.”

“This disproportionately hits 18- to 24-year-olds. For a lot of them, they say, ‘I’m not going to worry about it.’ They’re busy, and this is just one more thing to do.” Jamie Shew, the county clerk for Douglas County, added.

While the strict voter identification measures are one of the most tangible results of Kobach’s voting laws, the effects are far-reaching, with difficulties in registration increasingly becoming more and more difficult, as the recent voter registration recall from 31,000 citizens indicated.

Kobach believes his actions have made Kansas elections more fair: “Kansas remains the state with the most secure elections in the country,” he said. Although there’s no evidence yet to determine whether Kobach’s strict approach to voter rights have indeed made Kansas’ elections more secure, his actions have definitely put Kansans’ right to vote at risk, especially among vulnerable populations.

Jazmin Kay is a reporter for Generation Progress, covering voting rights and civic engagement. Follow her on Twitter at @jazminlkay.

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