NOTE: Our friends and colleagues at the Pew Center on the States have launched a new monthly newsletter that summarizes the latest work and research of the Election Initiatives team. You can see the inaugural issue here, which highlights Pew’s work on voter registration and looks back at recent Election Data Dispatches focusing on provisional ballots and the cost of elections. You can subscribe at the bottom of the page to get this information monthly. Check it out! – Doug Chapin, Director
Kansas county works to make sure everyone may vote
County will produce its own voter ID cards for eligible resident
There was no “ah-ha” moment that led Douglas County, Kan. Clerk Jaime Shew to his decision to begin offering county-produced photo IDs for residents, but more of a culmination of a series of events that gave Shew pause about his constituents’ ability to legally cast a ballot.
This year, Kansas joins a growing list of states requiring voters to show an officially sanctioned form of photo ID in order to vote. And while number and types of acceptable forms of ID is always increasing, Shew said he was still hearing from residents about the difficulty in obtaining the required ID.
Initially there were concerns about limited hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) as well as long lines, then there were concerns from nursing homes and other group living situations, and then there were concerns about accommodating residents without a home.
When the secretary of state’s office announced it would be producing an ID in their office for residents born out of state and unable to meet the DMV guidelines without purchasing a birth certificate, Shew said this further enhanced his pursuit of this project.
Shew began to research how other states, like Georgia, implemented their law and to see what his office could do to help make getting a voter ID more mobile while still staying within the spirit of the law.
“Our intention was not to replace the state free ID but to provide another point of contact and an additional level of service for our citizens above what was currently being offered,” Shew said. “Our office was able to come up with something mobile with additional hours and weekend availability. Basically, in short we realized there a number of concerns and asked the question, how can serve the needs of our citizens while staying in compliance with the law?”
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has been a staunch supporter of voter ID, not only in The Sunflower State but throughout the country as well. Kobach has not come down in support of Shew’s program yet, nor has he opposed it either at this time.
“The Secretary of State’s Office is making every effort to make sure all Kansans have access to photographic identification in advance of the upcoming elections,” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said in a statement. “The Douglas County Clerk’s Office is engaged in a similar effort. We will continue to work with Douglas County to ensure that photographic identification documents are issued in a responsible manner with the proper verification of identity.”
After his non-“ah-ha” moment, Shew said the first thing he did was work with county attorneys to ensure that the county-issued IDs would not open the county up to a legal challenge. Following that he worked with stakeholders to ensure what his office planned to do would actually help.
Then Shew and his team began thinking about what the IDs would look like and ultimately how much it would cost.
“It was very important for me these cards are secure and professional,” Shew said. “We worked with the ID vendor for the county to choose the right product and card. The card has multiple layers of security both visible and invisible to the carrier. The cards also include a statement on the back with makes it clear they are only to be used for voting and have no legal authority for any other function; i.e. buying alcohol, boarding a plane, etc.”
The cost per ID is .82 cents per card. Shew chose to use a card with additional security features including UV printing which added to the cost per card. Without the security features, the cards would have been about .67 cents per card.
Although the office could have used existing ID printers available in the county, Shew chose to purchase a new printer so that it could be housed in the clerk’s office.
Finally, Shew began to consider the process itself.
“We did not just want to start taking pictures and handing out ID’s there needed to be a secure, rigid, professional process in place,” Shew said. “As a local government there are sometimes assumptions that we do not know how to implement a policy or are not professional in our approach, I wanted to show this process was well planned and implemented.”
To-date the county has produced two of the voter ID cards, but Shew expects the program to expand rapidly once staff start going mobile.
“By being mobile, we will be able to take pictures and collect applications at an informational fairs that we would possible attend,” Shew said.
Even opponents of voter support the effort that Shew is making at the local level to ensure that everyone has the proper ID.
“Assuming the county IDs will in fact be accepted for voting in Kansas, I see only an upside to this plan,” said Wendy Weiser, director Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “No matter what your views are on voter ID, we can all agree that where ID requirements are in place, we should be doing everything we can to make sure that eligible citizens can get the IDs they need to vote. Ideally, states would take on this responsibility. But since they have not, voters would be well-served by local governments following Douglas County’s lead in states that accept county IDs.”
Shew seems to think that many counties could offer their own voter IDs as long as it complies with state law
“If another county considers this, I encourage them to make a list of potential criticisms of their process and build it to address those concerns,” Shew said. “Finally, have your plan in place before announcement and include multiple stakeholders, including other county offices, to help you think of any possible challenges you have overlooked.”