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Lawsuit filed challenges Kansas voter ID law

Updated: 2013-07-17T11:28:56Z

By Brent D. Wistrom

Eagle Topeka bureau

— The voter ID law pushed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach violates the Kansas Bill of Rights and prevented two elderly men from having their 2012 votes counted, according to a lawsuit being filed in Shawnee District Court.

It may be the first major challenge to the voter photo ID law lawmakers approved in 2011.

Arthur Spry and Charles Hamner, who live in a retirement home about 20 miles southeast of Topeka, say in the lawsuit that they had to cast provisional ballots in the 2012 state and federal election because they couldn’t find their birth certificates and didn’t have state-issued photo IDs, which are required by law to vote.

When they couldn’t provide adequate ID after voting provisional, their votes were thrown out, according to the lawsuit.

Kobach, who hadn’t yet reviewed the lawsuit, said the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to Indiana’s photo ID law in 2008.

“I don’t expect their lawsuit to get very far,” he said. “Kansas and a dozen other states were relying on what the Supreme Court said in 2008 (when the states passed their own photo ID laws).”

Kobach’s SAFE Act requires voters to show photo ID when they vote in person, a driver's license number and verified signature for voting by mail and proof of citizenship to register to vote.

Wichita lawyer Jim Lawing, who is representing the men, declined to comment on the case. But, in the lawsuit, he said that Spry showed his county-issued certificate of registration but didn’t have a state-issued photo ID – and couldn’t get one because he doesn’t have Internet access or any of the IDs required to get a free state-issued card.

Hamner, meanwhile, couldn’t afford the $6 fee to replace the photo ID he lost. Lawing wrote that the men don’t have Internet access. Even if they did, he wrote, they’d have to navigate a complicated route to find out how to get IDs.

Lawing likened the complicated procedure to get an ID required to vote to a Rube Goldberg machine where a complex chain reaction results in a simple task.

He called the act and related procedures “clumsy and deceptive,” and he contends that people with lower incomes, especially those in rural areas, face a greater burden to exercise their right to vote.

The lawsuit asks the court to rule that the relatively new voting law violates the men’s right to vote and the Kansas Bill of Rights, and to pay the men $5,000 in damages since their votes were not given equal weight with the votes of other citizens.

Kobach said the Kansas law is working well.

Of the nearly 1.2 million votes cast in the 2012 general election, 838 people were forced to cast provisional ballots because they didn’t show a valid photo ID, Kobach’s office reported.

Kobach said 306 of those voters presented their ID later and had their votes counted. A review of the those showed that almost all have valid IDs on file, he said.

Non-driver photo IDs became available Jan 1, 2012. As of September, Kobach said 120 such IDs were issued.

“That indicated a relatively small number of people needed them and they were able to get them when necessary,” he said.

Reach Brent Wistrom at 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @brentwistrom.

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