ACLU challenges 'discriminatory' Kansas voter ID law

ACLU officials are scheduled to appear in court Thursday to block what they call discriminatory voter ID laws in Kansas. Two-thirds of US states now have some form of voter ID laws. 

Michael P. King/AP/File
Chief inspector Jeanne Thieme inspects a voter's identification card at the Olbrich Gardens polling location in Madison, Wis. in February. A photo ID was required to vote in the election for state Supreme Court judges, a new requirement stemming from a law first passed in 2011 but eventually put on hold until it was upheld by the state Supreme Court in one of several rulings seen as partisan in recent years.

The American Civil Liberties Union will go to court on Thursday to issue a preliminary injunction against another voter ID law that it says restricts democracy more than it prevents fraud, this time in Kansas.

Under the Kansas law, enacted in 2013, citizens must prove their citizenship to register to vote, as well as at the polls. Acceptable forms of identification for registration purposes include items like US passports or birth certificates, but not free state issued IDs. 

Thirty-four states have some form of voter ID law in place, but Kansas has one of the stricter statues, requiring a photo ID.

The ACLU says that the Kansas law violates the Motor Voter ID Law passed by Congress in 1993 to raise voter registration rates and promote ease of registration. According to ACLU lawyer Dale Ho, Kansas does not conform to national voter registration law expectations, which require a uniform and accessible voter system.

Georgia and Alabama both have laws like Kansas's, according to Reuters. Other states, such as Wisconsin and Texas, have faced legal challenges to their similar laws in recent years.

The problems with these voter ID laws are manifold, say critics, disenfranchising groups that are already marginalized by society: African Americans, Hispanics, disabled individuals, and those in poverty.

“Voter ID laws remain a threat to our democracy,” said ACLU staff attorney Sean Young in a phone interview with the Christian Science Monitor. “They affect a substantial portion of the population, particularly low income people.”

Voters who cannot afford costly passports or meet driver’s license requirements also are likely to be unable to take the time to meet state requirements, although states with voter ID laws often point to services intended to help those who cannot easily register.

Mr. Young told the Monitor that, despite these promises, states do little to help poorer votes.

In late February, the Washington Post found that Texas’s voter ID laws disenfranchised about 500,000 citizens, and prevented them from voting in the presidential primaries.

Critics compare voter ID laws to the voter suppression that prevented African Americans from voting in the South during the Jim Crow era.

The ACLU estimates that in Kansas, about 22,000 eligible voters have been unable to register.

Meanwhile, proponents of these laws say that they help prevent voter fraud.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach supported the state's ID laws, saying that voter fraud can impact the outcome of an election.

"This is a very real issue and we have lots of close elections where the margin of victory is one vote or four to five votes," said Secretary Kobach. "Non-citizens voting can potentially steal an election."

But studies consistently show voter fraud is rare, and not effectively prevented by voter ID laws. A 2007 study by voting law expert Justin Levitt, “The Truth About Voter Fraud,” reported that due to the high financial and legal penalties, voter fraud is actually fairly uncommon.  

And when voter fraud does occur, critics of voter laws say that IDs make little difference. Far from Kobach’s claims regarding “stolen elections,” studies of voter fraud show that when it does occur, it is committed by dozens of individuals in a given election, rather than thousands or even hundreds.

The ACLU says the rise in voter ID laws corresponded to the mobilization of minority communities during the 2008 presidential election.

“These laws have definitely become more common since African American turnout rose,” Young told the Monitor, “Eight states passed laws after 2008. I think it’s no coincidence that these laws followed so swiftly after minority communities came out to vote.”

According to Young, concerns about voter fraud have been used to justify laws that prevent African Americans from voting for over a century.

The ACLU takes voter ID laws like Kansas’ very seriously. In 2014, it overturned “extreme” voter ID laws in Pennsylvania and Arkansas. Just this week, a Wisconsin Appeals court ruled that a lower court would have to consider voter concerns about the state’s ID laws.

Despite these victories, the ACLU may be facing an uphill battle in its fight against voter ID laws, which grow more common each election. Nevertheless, Young says, “The ACLU is not going to let up in its efforts to fight these discriminatory measures.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to