Despite reports of the successful implementation of Kansas’ controversial new voter ID laws coming out of Cimarron, Ks, the Wichita branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles is not prepared for an influx of citizens seeking free voter identification cards, as the new law provides for.
On Tuesday, about 4o activists from the KanVote Coalition and Occupy Wichita entered the DMV in Wichita with the intention of obtaining our free voter identification cards. We entered the line for general information to find out what we had to do. We were immediately approached by a state employee and asked to follow her into the hallway, outside the office. Members of the media including KWCH (CBS), KAKE (ABC), (KAKE chose not to air anything from the action although we did appreciate their attendance) KSN (NBC), Univision and KMUW (NPR) accompanied us and were told they could not film in the DMV. The cameras were taken to the hallway where crews filmed through a glass wall. A few of the activists wore microphones and remained in the office so the media did have sound despite having been removed. Occupy Wichita provided this video which features KanVote members Louis Goseland and CJ Schoch:
Why we were not allowed to stay in the line and take numbers like the rest of the patrons at the DMV was never made clear. Only one employee seemed to know what we were talking about, but she had to call supervisors in Topeka several times because she was not trained to answer our questions concerning who was eligible for the free voter identification cards.
Because the DMV computers crashed shortly after our arrival we were unable to obtain free voter ID’s. Apparently, it was only the Wichita location’s computers that were down, rather than the DMV’s state-wide system. What caused the computer issue remains unclear. While the state employee designated to help our group was aware of the free voter IDs, we had many questions that she could not answer. The employee, who is not permitted to speak with the media, spent a lot of time on the phone with the DMV in Topeka. The employee on the other end of the line, who I assume was a supervisor of some sorts, was also unable to answer many questions.
We were not permitted to enter the line and take numbers to meet with random state employees about getting our free voter IDs, as is the normal procedure. Instead, we were made a priority and pushed to the front and we were only permitted to speak with the one employee, who was extremely patient and helpful, especially given the ambush nature of the action.
However, the fact that we were not allowed to follow the regular procedures and wait in line like regular patrons leads us to believe that the rest of the employees at the Wichita DMV were not prepared to answer questions and implement the process of making free voter IDs. Yet, officials in Topeka claim that all state employees have been trained on the voter ID law.
What KanVote and Occupy Wichita proved through this action is that 40 people entering the only DMV, to obtain a free voter ID in a city that serves over 300,000 residents crashes the whole system and creates a chaotic atmosphere that cannot be handled through the regular process. Not one person received their free voter ID. While Secretary of State Kris Kobach may point to a successful vote in Cimarron under the new voter ID law, Cimarron only has 1,200 registered voters. Impoverished citizens are most likely to need a free voter ID and Wichita has over 30,000 residents living below the poverty line.
While the state is obviously not prepared to handle providing free voter ID’s to even a small fraction of the people who need them, Secretary of State Kris Kobach has gained the support of the Elections Committee in pushing forward the implementation the birth certificate requirements for first time voters to register. This law was not supposed to go into effect until next year, but Kobach wants to enact it this June. The voter ID law was also enacted earlier than first proposed.
Kobach is rushing these laws into action without the basic infrastructure or funding to implement them. While Kobach claims to have found 260 cases of voter fraud in Kansas since there has only been one conviction in that same period of time. One conviction out of ten million votes cast.
By forcing first time voters to provide their birth certificates in order to register, the state is putting a very large burden upon activists who hold voter registration drives. We will be required to photocopy people’s documents, and most people do not carry their birth certificates around town.
Special interest groups that seek to increase their influence over our elections realize that their leverage increases when voter participation declines. Voter suppression is the primary goal of these laws. If the state wants to implement voter ID laws, which it has, the state should be deploying mobile units dedicated to registering and providing free voter IDs for anyone who wants one, which it has not.
In fact, most people do not even realize they have to bring their birth certificate when they register to vote for the first time. Those who do not have a valid ID, meaning your ID has the wrong address, is expired, or does not have your legal name (recently married women might want to take note), will not be allowed to vote.
The less people who vote, the more power the interest groups wield.
These measures have also been taken in several other states, including Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker also enacted voter ID laws and then proceeded to announce the closing of several DMV offices, all of which were located in Democratic districts.