Archive for Tuesday, July 16, 2013

County budget reflects added cost of voter ID laws

Douglas County Courthouse

Douglas County Courthouse

July 16, 2013

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew is expecting about $32,500 in new costs for running elections next year, largely due to the state's new voter identification laws.

“I did build in some requests for anticipated costs for implementation of the new law,” Shew said. “I added additional temp employees who will be responsible for following up with voters to get documentation, additional printing for additional notices and mailings, and more postage, anticipating a large increase in mailings to voters.”

Election officials are preparing for a busy 2014, when there will be races for governor and other statewide elected offices, as well as a U.S. Senate race, congressional races, and elections for the Kansas House of Representatives.

The draft budget that county commissioners approved for publication last week includes about $350,000 for the clerk's office in 2014. That's an increase of $32,735, or about 10 percent, over the clerk's budget in 2010, the most recent comparable election year. Most of that increase, Shew said, is related to the cost of implementing the new voter identification rule.

“I budgeted for what I felt was worst case scenario,” Shew said. “If we were assisting thousands of voters with documents, I will need staff to take on that burden beyond what the staff is currently doing at that time.”

Shew also doubled ballot costs, anticipating that the the legislature will pass a bill putting local elections into the fall of even-numbered years, which would result in multiple-page ballots, he said.

In 2011, Kansas enacted a new law that requires voters to show a photo ID at the polls. And starting this year, the law requires people signing up to vote for the first time to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register.

That law was pushed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, who has gained a national reputation for advocating laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration and alleged voter fraud by non-citizens.

The law has created headaches for an estimated 11,000 would-be voters in Kansas – including 434 in Douglas County, as of Monday – whose voter registration is “in suspense” because they attempted to register when they renewed their drivers license, where proof of citizenship is not required.

Shew said that about one-third of all new registrations received since the new law took effect have been held up because of the proof-of-citizenship requirement. And if that trend continues, he expects there could be “a couple thousand voters in suspense” by the November 2014 elections.

Jeannine Koranda, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Revenue, said that under the federal “motor voter” law, people must be allowed to fill out voter registration forms whenever they apply for a drivers license or renew their old license.

When they do, Koranda said, that information is forwarded to the Secretary of State's office. But since Kansas law does not require proof of citizenship to renew a drivers license, the department does not ask for that information, and so the material sent to the Secretary of State is not sufficient to complete their registration.

According to Shew, that will result in additional mailing costs to notify those voters that their registrations are incomplete, and instructing them on how to show proof of citizenship. He said it is also likely to result in a larger number of provisional ballots being cast in next year's elections, and that will result in additional staff and mailing expenses.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Arizona. Kobach has said that ruling does not affect Kansas because the law here is different from Arizona's, but some lawmakers disagree.

Senate minority leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, has asked for a formal attorney general's opinion about whether the Kansas law is still valid. Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, has not yet issued that opinion.

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