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Debating Kansas’ mandate on tighter voter ID enforcement

March 27, 2014 at 6:40 PM EST
In a recent spate of voter identification controversies sweeping the country, a federal judge in Kansas ordered election officials to help Kansas and Arizona enforce laws requiring new voters to show proof of citizenship. Hari Sreenivasan get two views from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Jenny Rose Flanagan of Common Cause.
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GWEN IFILL: Next tonight: the simmering debate about who gets to vote. A federal judge in Kansas last week ordered election officials to help Kansas and Arizona enforce laws requiring new voters to show proof of citizenship. An appeal is expected. Those who support the requirement say it will prevent voter fraud. And those against argue it will disenfranchise mostly minority voters.

Hari Sreenivasan has more.

HARI SREENIVASAN: If this all sounds familiar, that’s because controversial voter identification laws have been popping up all over the country and were a big part of the 2012 presidential election. In all, a total of 34 states have passed laws calling for voters to show some form of I.D. at the polls.

So, what about the specifics of this case and what such laws mean for voters and the voting process?

We explore those questions with Kris Kobach, the secretary of state in Kansas, who has been called the architect of the citizenship requirement, and Jenny Rose Flanagan, the director of voting and elections for Common Cause and an opponent of the law.

Kris Kobach, let me start with you. You celebrated this ruling as something that will pave the way for more states to do this. Why is a rule like this, requiring more proof of citizenship, necessary?

KRIS KOBACH, R, Kansas Secretary of State: Well, it is a rule requiring proof of citizenship period.

In most of the states in the union, you simply just fill out the registration card, check a box saying I’m a U.S. citizen, sign it and you’re done. But four states, including Kansas and Arizona, have said, no, proof of citizenship, documentary proof is necessary, because so many aliens are on our voter rolls. We have found them in our two states.

And most often, they’re manipulated by someone who says, hey, you can vote. And they’re trying to generate votes for a particular local candidate in some cases. And they don’t even know they’re breaking the law.

And now we have a safeguard to ensure that only U.S. citizens are on the polls. And you have to remember that every time a non-citizen casts a vote in an election, that is effectively canceling out the vote of a U.S. citizen.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Ms. Flanagan, what about that idea? Isn’t preventing voter fraud a noble goal?

JENNY ROSE FLANAGAN, Common Cause: Well, of course. No one would like to see non-citizens or anyone who is not eligible to vote in our elections.

But let’s be clear here. There’s such disproportionate numbers of what Mr. Kobach is talking about. We’re talking about at least 10,000 or more eligible voters in Kansas right now who are on a suspense list because of this law, and upwards of 30,000 in Arizona because of these laws.

So you know, you make it sound simple, and for those of us who have these I.D.s and the documents, it is not a problem. But we know that at least 10 percent of Americans don’t have the necessary documentation. And these laws are knocking people out of our democracy.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Kris Kobach, what about that notion that this is a way to disenfranchise more voters; the people who are registered now who might not have had that proof of citizenship already aren’t going to be able to cast a ballot?

KRIS KOBACH: Well, I want to correct one thing. Nobody’s rights have been suspended. The laws only go into effect prospectively for newly registered voters. People who are already registered were grandfathered in.

Now, the 10,000-plus people she is referring to, nobody’s rights were suspended. Those are people whose registrations are incomplete. Our law is very, very easy for voter registration drives and people to use. So, you can fill out your registration card, send it in. Your registration will be partially done. You still have to provide proof of citizenship.

But we bent over backyard to make it easy, so you can e-mail it in from home. You can even text it in one of our largest counties. And so you can take your time providing the proof of citizenship. And 83 percent of the people who started the process since our law went into effect have already provided the proof of citizenship, again, because it’s so easy.

And we have to remember, we’re still many months away from the November 2014 election. So I expect as we get closer to the elections, more much those people will say, you know what, I need to finish up my registration. But no one is being prevented from voting. They simply are taking their time, as our law allows them to do.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Ms. Flanagan, do we have any proof that this actually either discourages or prevents people from voting?

JENNY ROSE FLANAGAN: Absolutely.

I mean, to me, these laws send a message to voters, we don’t want you if you don’t have the documentary proof. And again we know that there are thousands of Americans who are eligible voters who just don’t have these documents.

Let me give you a quick example from a project we know of in Colorado, an I.D. project, where they work with thousands of citizens who are trying to get I.D.s to participate in society. It’s not that folks don’t want the documentation, but sometimes they just don’t have it.

An example is an older — an elder woman — this impacts women greatly — who was adopted, and she wanted to get her I.D., found out that her birth certificate, she didn’t have, and in trying to get it, the names didn’t match. And in order to get these documentations, she had to enlist the help of pro bono legal support. It took over a year. So we’re talking about a very costly process, very time-intensive process.

And so we know that there are many Americans out there who aren’t going to be able to meet these hurdles. And, yes, the majority of — 80 percent, as the secretary just said, may be able to get this proof. But it’s — frankly, it’s not that easy. And, again, the resulting impact are people not going to be able to participate in our democracy. And that’s just un-American.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Mr. Kobach, quickly, the Department of Justice, I think, the last time they looked into it, between 2000 and 2005, out of 197 million votes cast, they only found 40 instances of cases where people were indicted for voter fraud.

Is this a big enough problem for the state of Kansas or other states to be using taxpayer dollars now and trying to go through and say you are on the suspended list until you offer more proof?

KRIS KOBACH: Absolutely it is.

If you just look at indictments, then are you only seeing a very small percentage of the picture. If you look at actual cases of reported voter fraud, where you have like a county clerk or some other corroborating individual who can say, yes, this is a credible report, it’s much higher.

And just look at the number of aliens in our voter rolls. In Kansas, we presented to the federal court 20 examples where we knew they were aliens and had gotten on the voter rolls. Arizona presented about 200 cases. And that is just the tip of the iceberg, because there is no easy way to look at your voter rolls and determine without is a citizen and who is not.

And so it is a significant problem. And one response to the earlier point being made, in Kansas, our law does allow someone who doesn’t have any proof of citizenship, which would usually be a birth certificate or passport, it does allow someone still to prove their citizenship.

In fact, just this past Monday, we have a state board that allows people in that very rare situation to prevent any — present any affidavits or other evidence they have that indicates their citizenship. And it works very well. It doesn’t require a lawyer. And it happens very quickly. Usually takes about five — well, there is a notice period of five days and the board rules.

And so it’s working really well in Kansas and equally well in Arizona.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Mr. Kobach, staying with you just for a second, there was a recent University of Chicago study that showed how minority youth were actually asked for voter I.D. far more than white youth were — or I should say white young voters were.

Is there something that you can do to inoculate that reservation that this is another hurdle that will disenfranchise specific groups of voters?

KRIS KOBACH: Well, our law doesn’t allow poll workers or anyone to not ask anyone.

Everyone coming to the poll — I think now you’re talking about photo I.D. Everyone coming to the polls has to present photo I.D. And everyone registering to vote has to present proof of citizenship, so there can be no discrimination.

Some of the argument that I have seen on the other side is, they claim that maybe people of a certain race or ethnic group will be less likely to have proof of citizenship. But, again, we have seen no evidence of that.

You know, most people regard their birth certificate as a pretty important document. And in Kansas, we even took the extra step of providing free birth certificates for someone who lost theirs. We have really bent over backward to make sure that anyone who is a U.S. citizen can register. But we also made it hard to cheat.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Ms. Flanagan, very briefly, you’re planning to appeal?

JENNY ROSE FLANAGAN: We are planning to appeal, because, again, he makes it seem like this is very easy, but we know the facts are, when you’re talking to voters who are on the ground, it’s not as easy.

And this is really in contrast to what we’re seeing around the rest of the nation, where we are making our voting more accessible, rather than restrictive.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, thank you both for your time.

KRIS KOBACH: My pleasure.