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RESETTING THE CLOCK: Kansas Voters Under Attack

By Glenda Overstreet, President, Kansas NAACP State Conference

After ratification of the 15th Amendment (1870) threw open the door to voter participation by black men, they took elected office (especially in the south) by storm. In response, the nation erected mass barriers to voter participation and, as part of its zeal to shut out the black community, they willingly threw poor white voters under the bus.

Although that was more than 140 years ago, in 2012 Kansas is hoping to reset the clock. With Secretary of State Kris Kobach in the lead, Kansas has taken the ironic step of adopting voter suppression measures under the so called prevention claim of voter fraud: requiring voter photo ID and proof of citizenship at the time of registration.

What it Looks Like

House Bill 2437 (now SB17) in particular seeks to accelerate the speed with which Kansas dives head first into the retrogressive voting barriers of the past by accelerating proof of citizenship requirements to June 2012 rather than wait until the winter of 2013 as required by the new law. This of course, would be coupled with the retrogressive voter photo ID requirement which is already in place. Decision-makers fervor for accelerating implementation however, is wholly incongruent with the notion that we should have a participatory democracy because the two measures taken together will throw otherwise eligible voters under the bus in the name of a problem – mass voter fraud – that does not exist.  

What it Takes to Stop It

The best way to achieve a truly participatory democracy marked by voter confidence in the outcome of our elections is to ensure all eligible people – without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation, for instance – can cast an unfettered ballot that gets counted on Election Day.  Anything short of that, no matter how it is framed, is an attack on democracy. For this reason we must speak loudly and boldly to the facts surrounding the true impact of these measures, as the claim that mass voter fraud exists is itself a fraud.

  • Mass voter fraud is a myth.  John Ashcroft’s ‘Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative’ only uncovered 24 cases of unlawful voting over a four year period.   Kansas Secretary of State Kobach has testified that he has initiated his efforts on a proposed “36 cases of unlawful voting.” According to the state’s election statistics however, in 2008 there were nearly 2 million registered voters in the state.
  • The first question on Kansas’ voter registration form already asks the applicant to affirm citizenship. Additionally, casting so much as one ballot illegally in a federal election can result in several years in jail plus a $10,000 fine.
  • In-person voter fraud occurs at a rate of 0.000002% (you are more likely to be struck by lightning than to find someone who has engaged in voter fraud).
  • It is estimated that nationally more than 21 million people lack ID that would meet voter photo ID requirements. This includes some 6 million senior citizens.
  • Homeless voters and voters who have been temporarily displaced are likely to lack photo ID altogether.  The foreclosure crisis has displaced low-income families and minorities disproportionately.
  • There are very few official documents which establish citizenship. Primary documents are limited to a certified birth certificate, a U.S. passport, or a naturalization certificate. However, not one of these documents is available free of charge.
  • Women are in the unique position to have proof of citizenship documents that do not bear their current legal last name (e.g. women who take on their spouse’s name). Nationally, more than 50 percent of women surveyed were in this predicament.
  • Voter photo ID measures and proof of citizenship requirements are a lesson in circular impossibilities as in order to get a photo ID (even the ‘free’ ones) one has to first provide a proof of citizenship document (which aren’t free) and to get a proof of citizenship document, one commonly has to provide a photo ID.

The NAACP is a leader in the fight to increase the integrity of our elections and thereby, the peoples’ confidence in their outcome. Integrity and confidence however, will decrease if thousands of otherwise eligible voters are pushed into the margins of democracy by unnecessary election law changes. For this reason, the Kansas NAACP remains true to the organization’s proud history of standing boldly and valiantly in opposition to voter suppression and we do so on behalf of current voters and in the name of the barrier-free voting opportunities we must leave for all children. It is our legacy, it is our calling, it is our responsibility.