Strong voter participation and engagement are fundamental to a healthy democracy. Efforts to restrict access to voting fly in the face of this important goal. Alarmingly, despite another midterm election in which nationally only 41 percent of eligible persons voted, many states are now renewing efforts to restrict, rather than expand, the franchise.
The timing could not be more inappropriate. Incoming legislators and governors are pushing the passage of strict voter identification laws while their states face critical budget crises. Instead of focusing on job creation and providing relief for millions of unemployed and underemployed residents, legislators have placed a law that would disenfranchise tens of thousands at the top of their agendas.
Kansas Is One of Those States
Kansas is considering a bill to require all voters to present government issued photo identification at the polls. Free IDs are provided only after the applicant signs an affirmation that he or she receives government assistance or earns at or less than 150% of the poverty rate. Everyone else must pay $14. Under previous federal court opinion, this provision makes the Kansas ID bill an unconstitutional poll tax. The bill goes even further than other states by also requiring that in order to register to vote, all Kansans must present proof of American citizenship. This means presenting a driver's license, birth certificate, passport, naturalization documents or a tribal card.
Kansas Has More Important Problems
Kansas faces a budget gap of $492 million for Fiscal Year 2012. To address the shortfall, Governor Brownback proposed a government spending freeze and the elimination of eight (unspecified) government agencies on his first day in office. Governor Brownback has proposed limiting spending to "[t]hose areas we're really trying to protect - the core functions of state government," promising to focus on education and public safety spending as immediate budget priorities.
Yet the Voter ID proposal would divert funds from those core functions of government and likely require millions in new government spending over the next several years.
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