Leading the way
Last week, this newspaper printed an editorial criticizing Kansas's photo ID election law. The editorial was both misguided and misleading. Three major errors need to be corrected.
For starters, the editorial got the facts wrong. The editorial claimed that there were only 75 known instances of voter fraud in Kansas since 1998. Actually the number is much higher. There were 235 documented cases of voter fraud in Kansas between 1997 and the end of 2010.
Was the problem endemic in every corner of the state? Of course not. But it has been a very serious problem in several counties. Wyandotte County, for example, had more than 50 cases.
That's why I proposed, and the Kansas Legislature adopted, Kansas's Secure and Fair Elections Act in 2011. The SAFE Act combines three elements: (1) a requirement that voters present photo IDs when they vote in person, (2) a requirement that absentee voters present a full driver's license number and have their signatures verified, and (3) a proof of citizenship requirement for all newly-registered voters. Kansas was the first state in the country to combine all three reforms.
The second error in the editorial concerned the 2012 election. The editorial noted that zero cases of election fraud have been discovered in 2012 so far. Nonsensically, the editorial then declared that this proves the SAFE Act was not necessary.
On the contrary, the reason that there was so much less voter fraud in 2012 was precisely because the SAFE Act made it so much harder to cheat. That is exactly what we hoped for.
Indeed, the 2012 election was a huge success for the SAFE Act and for the people of Kansas. The photo ID requirement went very smoothly, and the reaction of voters was overwhelmingly positive.
A total of 1.18 million Kansans went to the polls. And only 838 people forgot or declined to bring their photo IDs with them. That's 0.07 percent of the voters, or less than one in a thousand voters. All of those voters were given provisional ballots, and 306 exercised their option to bring in a photo ID after the election to make sure that their ballot was counted.
That's where the editorial made a third error. The editorial declared that the remaining 532 voters were disenfranchised, "denied their most fundamental right as citizens."
Hardly. The editorial fails to mention that those voters were able to cast provisional ballots and could have presented their photo IDs to the county clerk or election office to make their ballots count, but they chose not to. My office is conducting research to confirm whether or not those 532 voters possessed driver's licenses, and we have yet to discover a single voter who did not possess one.
In other words, not a single person was disenfranchised. Every one of the 838 voters had the opportunity to make his or her ballot count. Indeed, it is even permissible to get a free photo ID after the election, and then to use that new ID to make one's provisional ballot count.
Furthermore, the editorial ignores the fact that every year thousands of Kansans cast provisional ballots for which the voters cannot take subsequent steps to ensure they are counted. For example, in 2012 more than 3,700 people who were not registered to vote had to cast provisional ballots; and more than 800 people failed to sign their advance ballot envelopes, which rendered their ballots provisional. Under Kansas law, those provisional votes cannot be counted.
But of course, you don't hear liberal editorial writers complaining that voter registration requirements or signature requirements disenfranchise people.
All elections involve rules to ensure that ballots are cast fairly and securely. If a person doesn't follow the rules, his or her ballot may not count. But at least the photo ID rule allows each voter a second chance to bring in his or her photo ID after the election.
The bottom line is that Kansas's SAFE Act makes it easy to vote, but hard to cheat. And Kansans like it. A 2010 Survey USA poll showed that 84% of Kansans approve of proof of citizenship at the time of registration; and 85% of Kansans approve of the photo ID requirement. According to the editorial, these are "irrational" points of view. However, the fact that such an overwhelming percentage of Kansans support these reforms suggests that it is the editorial writer whose views are irrational.
Other states like the Kansas law too. Two states have already copied Kansas's SAFE Act. Alabama has adopted our proof-of-citizenship provisions, and Pennsylvania has adopted a version of our protection for absentee ballots. And more states are likely to adopt the Kansas model in 2013.
Kansas has emerged as the state that leads the way in preventing voter fraud. That is something to celebrate. Our state has taken commonsense steps to make our elections more secure. And nobody was disenfranchised.
Finally, let's consider one more fact about the 2012 elections in Kansas. During the primary, there were three elections for the state legislature that were decided by a margin of fewer than ten votes. One was an exact tie that had to be decided by coin toss. In the general election, two more races were exceedingly close: one race was decided by 17 votes, and another by 21 votes.
When the margins of victory are that narrow, election security is at a premium because it only takes a handful of fraudulent votes to steal the election. However, the SAFE Act ensures that even in such tight races, we are absolutely certain that the outcome is accurate.
In sum, the SAFE Act gives confidence to voters and candidates alike that the system is fair. And that confidence strengthens our republic.
Kris W. Kobach,
Kansas Secretary of State