Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Kansans who went to the polls Tuesday ran into an unexpected problem when they provided required photo identification.
The foul-up — involving a new driver’s license called Real ID — did not appear to affect anyone’s right to vote. But it was an inconvenience for voters and poll workers, and it suggests Kansas needs to pay closer attention to the basic tools for casting ballots.
The snafu may also feed doubts about the state’s voter ID requirements, Real ID, safety and the right to vote.
Kansas began issuing Real ID driver’s licenses in August. They’re part of a national program designed to strengthen identification documents in the states. By the year 2020, you’ll need a Real ID-compliant license to fly on an airline.
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Real ID driver’s licenses include a white star in the corner and two pictures of the license holder. On the back, there are bar codes that provide information about the holder.
That’s where Tuesday’s problem comes in. Kansans who presented Real ID licenses to poll workers soon learned the bar codes didn’t work. The scanners couldn’t read them.
Instead, election workers using electronic poll books had to manually search for voter data. The process added a minute or so to casting a ballot.
It turns out the Real ID bar codes had changed, but no one from the state told local election workers about it.
“We honestly did not know,” said Bruce Newby, Wyandotte County election commissioner.
Someone should be embarrassed. It seems obvious that officials needed to make sure the Real ID bar codes would work with existing equipment.
It’s equally obvious someone should have notified election authorities that a change was coming.
This happened across the state, and authorities have promised to fix the problem, but Kansans have a right to be nervous. Will there be a bar code issue when fliers use Real ID licenses at airports?
And what about voters?
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach led the effort to force Kansans to present a valid photo ID to exercise their rights as citizens. On Tuesday, some Kansans who tried to comply by using a state-issued document discovered it wouldn’t work as intended.
Perhaps Kobach can pause from his work on the Election Integrity Commission long enough to make sure voters’ rights in Kansas are fully protected and that election systems work.
(We’re not confident. On Thursday, a member of the commission sued to find out more about the group’s own work.)
The Kansas Department of Revenue, which issues driver’s licenses, also has some work to do to make sure this problem doesn’t resurface next year.
We don’t want to overstate our concerns. Again, there’s no evidence anyone was prevented from voting because of the bar code blunder.
Instead of investing time and energy chasing virtually non-existent voter fraud, though, the state should work to make sure the process is convenient and secure.
It should also make sure Real IDs work as intended. Those goals should be met before Kansans cast ballots again.