Over 36,000 Kansans have been unable to register to vote due to changes in requirements, according to the Oct. 15 New York Times article, “Voter ID Battle Shifts to Kansas.”
Secretary of State Kris Kobach said these changes are supposed to stop fraudulent voting in Kansas, though some argue that it is a barrier against the right to vote for certain groups.
“Our objective was to make Kansas elections the most secure voting systems in the country,” Kobach said.
According to Kobach, these changes are part of the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act passed in 2011. As of January 2012, voters became required to bring a photo ID to the polls. Starting in 2013, Kansans had to also provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, U.S. passport or naturalization records.
Targeting young voters
Though Kobach said these requirements will stop fraudulent voting, some have said they feel it stops more than that.
“Are we wanting people to vote, or are we discouraging folks from participation?” said John Carlin, visiting professor and executive-in-residence at the Staley School of Leadership Studies.
To Carlin, the changes in registration requirements make it more difficult to register. The former Kansas governor said that young voters 18-30 years old are particularly inconvenienced, because they are the most mobile of the population and may have left their documents with their parents.
“I think young people should be outraged,” Carlin said.
Carlin also said one thing he tells his students to do is to vote; however, young people have the lowest turnout at elections nationwide.
This can be seen in a U.S. Census Bureau study that showed voter participation by citizens 19-24 years old was at 50.9 percent in 1964 and dropped to 38 percent in 2012.
The same study showed that voter participation by those 45-64 years old was at 75.9 percent and only dropped to 63.4 percent over the same period.
Carlin said he believes young voters should be the largest group participating because they have more at stake for the future than older voters.
Kobach said there should be a higher young voter turnout, but that hasn’t been the case for decades.
“It’s not as if today’s college-age voters are doing any worse than college-age voters 20 years ago,” Kobach said.
Young people have always had lower turnout rates for elections, according to Kobach.
“(These requirements) keep a group that historically is unmotivated from actually voting,” Abby Agnew, junior in marketing, said. “They’re like, ‘This is too hard. Why should I try?'”
Agnew said these additional registration requirements target young people and disenfranchise them.
She said she believes that Kobach is not considering how difficult it might be for students to get their proof of citizenship from their parents, who might have misplaced the documents and have to search for them for long periods of time to help their children.
Kobach said that providing proof of citizenship is not as difficult as some might say. According to him, even a picture taken on a phone would be accepted when registering to vote.
“We’re doing everything we can to encourage people to vote,” Kobach said.
There is an app, VoteKansas, that gives users information about their voting sites. According to Kobach, it is actually easy to register. Still, not everyone agrees.
“I don’t like any movement that makes (voter registration) complicated or difficult,” Carlin said. “It can be simple.”
According to Carlin, technology should make voter registration easier.
He said some states have registration open until the day of elections, and Kansas should be doing something more like that instead of throwing out registration forms after 90 days that could not be completed because the registrant was unable to provide proof of citizenship.
According to Austin White, senior in electrical engineering, the voter registration requirements are “definitely a hindrance.”
White said allowing photos of a registrant’s proof of citizenship can make the registering process easier for young voters like him, who would have to drive for several hours to get their birth certificates or other accepted documents from their parents.
Though White said he thinks photos are easier, they can also prove problematic. Fraudulent voters can use technology to make changes to a birth certificate and still be able to vote, according to White.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think (Kansas has) a problem of any serious nature in terms of people cheating,” Carlin said.
These registration requirements are just making it needlessly complicated to register, according to Carlin.
“These are a bunch of additional requirements that we have to figure out how to do,” Agnew said.
Agnew said this is not a useful law because voter fraud was never a significant problem, so there is no way to “justify some stupid law.”
Katie Thomas, sophomore in finance, said it makes sense to require proof of citizenship to register. She said the laws in America and Kansas pertain to American citizens, so they should be the ones able to vote.
“It’s perfectly fine to require proof of citizenship,” Thomas said.
This controversy over registration requirements has put Kobach against many Kansas Democrats, who believe he is barring certain groups from voting.
Carlin said these requirements are going to keep voter turnout rates low in Kansas, though to Kobach “the argument (against the new registration requirements) is ridiculous” because of how easy it still is to register.