Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach walked into a heated debate with Wichita constituents in a meeting that was intended for him to explain the new “anti-fraud” voting laws. He launched these new laws, “Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act,” right after taking office. There were about 30 people present at the meeting, held at the Sedgwick County Extension Agriculture building in west Wichita.
There were no TV cameras there from the local news stations. The meeting almost seemed as a planned non-event and many of the people who did show up responded to a Facebook message that was intended to attract local activists. Some of those people were from Occupy Wichita.
This was the fourth meeting Kobach has held so far this month and he plans to hold others through-out June.
Under the new law, which was signed into law in April 2011, Kansas voters must show an official Kansas photo identification before they can vote in any election. These new rules start Jan. 1, 2013, and voters registering for the first time must prove U.S. citizenship. That usually requires a birth certificate, although Kobach said he had copies of a different form that can be used by those who don’t have a birth certificate.
Kobach was told by several people in the audience that they had gone to the Driver’s license offices in Wichita and that the workers there couldn’t explain how to get a photo ID.
“The head of those offices is sitting right there in the back,” Kobach said. “She can answer any questions you have.”
“You may know how this new system works, but your workers don’t,” some angry member of the audience said. “You need to let them know what is going on and what people can do to get the ID they need.”
Members of the audience complained about the long waits at the driver’s license stations, often three hours or more, that just add to discouragement for voters.
Many in the audience were sceptical that fraud was the real issue behind the new laws. Some compared the new requirements to a “poll tax.”
When asked about the number of voter fraud documented in Kansas Kobach said it was about 250. When asked by a man in the audience how many years that covered, Kobach said that period started in the 1990s.
“You mean you’re doing all of this over 20 people a year!” the man said in a loud voice.
“That’s 20 people who have been disfranchised over someone making their votes not count,” Kobach replied.
Kobach was asked why there wasn’t more news about the meeting.
“Why is this meeting being held at 3:30 in the afternoon, when most People are at work?” asked Louis Goseland who set up the Facebook site inviting people to attend. ”Why is it way over on the west end of town?”
There were also complaints that the news media had not given out any details about the time or location of the meeting.
“It’s been in the newspaper,” Kobach said.
Others in the audience denied that. The Wichita Eagle had nothing in about the meeting until after it was over. The Meeting had been mentioned on local TV stations, but not specifics as to when and where the meeting would be in Wichita. By contrast The Hutchinson News and The Salina Journal both had announcements about Kobach’s meetings, giving time and place.
Over and over members of the audience made it clear they thought this new law was designed to make it harder for some people to vote and had nothing to do with voter fraud.
Louis Goseland asked Kobach about the timing of his meeting.