Lawsuit challenges photo ID election law

6/28/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas' law requiring voters to present a picture ID is being challenged in Shawnee County.

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas' law requiring voters to present a picture ID is being challenged in Shawnee County.

Wichita attorney Jim Lawing filed the lawsuit for Overbrook residents Arthur Spry and Charles Hamner to contest the constitutionality of the voting mandate included in the state's Secure and Fair Elections Act of 2011. The act was written by Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is the only named defendant in the case.

The Shawnee County clerk's office said it received the case Thursday.

Critics have denounced the legislation as an attempt to suppress voter turnout among poor, minority and elderly voters, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Kobach said Thursday he had not yet seen the lawsuit, but said he believes the law is sound.

He said he doesn't expect the lawsuit to progress very far because the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a similar challenge to an Indiana voter ID law in 2008.

"The court has already rejected arguments that these plaintiffs are making that the burden of getting your documents together in order to get a free ID ... somehow impedes your constitutional right to vote," Kobach said.

State law requires voters have a photo ID when voting in person and a driver's license number when voting by mail. Kansas also requires proof of citizenship for those registering to vote for the first time.

If one doesn't have proof of identity and is unable to pay for such a document, he or she can apply for a free State Voter Identification Document. To be eligible for that, a person born in Kansas must apply to the Kansas Office of Vital Statistics for a certified copy of a birth certificate and obtain from the agency a "no certificate letter." Kobach's office then must be given a copy of this letter.

Hamner and Spry, both retirees, were blocked last year from having their votes counted because they didn't have a government-issued identity card with a photograph proving they were Kansas residents in good standing. They voted with provisional ballots in November 2012, but those weren't counted because neither man provided sufficient proof of their identity.

Lawing said both Hamner and Spry live in a retirement home and neither had access to birth records necessary to secure a picture ID. He said they also don't have driver's licenses, computers or the resources to apply for a free state ID.

"The right to vote is a fundamental right possessed by Kansas citizens, and the plaintiffs' rights to vote were denied," Lawing said in the lawsuit. "It is a pernicious attack on the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs and thousands of other Kansans who do not enjoy ready access to modern technology."

Lawing's lawsuit asserted the system established by Kobach to obtain supplemental identification for voting was also "clumsy and deceptive."

"If it were not so damaging to Kansas' right to vote, the deliberately over-engineered system described ... would be linked to Rube Goldberg, a famous cartoonist, and enjoy a position of honor in the annals of political humor," the lawsuit said.

Kobach also said the Kansas law worked "extremely smoothly" in the 2012 election cycle, and that of the 1.18 million voters who participated in the November 2012 election, 838 voters cast provisional ballots because they didn't have photo IDs and 306 of those brought in their photo ID a week later.

"It's a myth that a large number of Kansans lack photo ID," he said.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com

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