Political operatives in two states, though, decided that this was an opportune moment to try to tilt the electoral scales for 2008, and pressed legislation creating—not solving—problems for their own citizens.
We’ve written before on Missouri’s firestorm over a proposed constitutional amendment on restrictive photo ID and citizenship rules. At the end of the legislative session, and with the potential to swing the 2008 election on the line (given the history of photo-finish statewide races in Missouri), the amendment died on the vine last Friday after lawmakers ajourned for the year without bringing it to a vote. And then there’s the neighbor to the west, which was trying mightily to keep up with the Joneses.
The Kansas legislature recently passed legislation requiring voters to show citizenship papers when registering and photo ID when voting in person at the polls. This is the harshest such law in the country, beyond any other state. And though there’s no indication that there’s a pressing problem this solves, there are already reports from other states with less restrictive rules that real people are showing up and having to cast ballots that won’t count. Most people, yes, have specific types of documentation. But some just don’t—and without the right papers, it’s actually not a small thing to get the right papers. Sometimes, you’re stuck in an endless loop: needing to show a birth certificate to get a photo ID, and needing to show photo ID to get a birth certificate. At times, the bureaucracy can be majestic in its capacity to frustrate.
Private businesses, of course, know that some potential customers don’t have a particular specific piece of paper, so they adapt their practices in reasonable ways to include people who don’t have the document in question. So, I might add, do the election laws of 48 states, which all allow voters to prove their identity in sensible ways without a particular type of magic card. Not so with the new Kansas bill.
All of this—the bill without any justification, with the proven capacity for harm to Kansans, and the potential to skew the 2008 elections—landed on the desk of Governor Kathleen Sebelius. And today, Governor Sebelius vetoed the bill, helping to ensure that Kansas, like most of the rest of the country, accommodates the citizens without as much as the citizens with. There’s no better way to ensure the integrity of our elections than that.