Sunday, September 21, 2014

KOBACH: Kansas elections are well run, secure

By KRIS KOBACH, Kansas Secretary of State | 4/30/2014

[Editor’s note: The following submission by Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state, is in response to an Insight Kansas column — “Why is Kobach failing on ballot-box accuracy?” — in the April 26-27 Herald.]

[Editor’s note: The following submission by Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state, is in response to an Insight Kansas column — “Why is Kobach failing on ballot-box accuracy?” — in the April 26-27 Herald.]

This newspaper recently published a column by Fort Hays State University professor Chapman Rackaway claiming that Kansas elections are poorly administered. Rackaway relied on a recent Pew report in making his claims and personally criticizing me.

However, Rackaway failed to do his homework, resulting in a very misleading column. The six biggest problems with Rackaway’s editorial are the following:

1. Comparing apples to oranges. The Pew report shows Kansas having a larger-than-average percentage of “provisional ballots,” which Rackaway says is a problem. However, in Kansas we issue a provisional ballot in every situation where the voter’s status is in question. We do this (rather than turning the voter away) to protect the voter. Many states do not. They only use provisional ballots in limited situations. Consequently, comparing Kansas’ percentage of provisional ballots to that of other states is like comparing apples to oranges. If Rackaway had done his research, he would have known that.

2. Military ballots. Rackaway also suggested that military ballots are not being administered well, without providing any details. However, the Pew report shows that the opposite is true. According to Pew, the percent of military and overseas ballots rejected in Kansas was 10.1 percent in 2008. By 2012, we had reduced that to 5.7 percent — a 44-percent decrease, and a huge improvement for our deployed military. In addition, Kansas is among the minority of states that allow military voters to return their voted ballots by email, not just receive them by email. In 2010, I promised that I would ensure that all military personnel could vote easily. I’ve made good on that promise.

3. Voter participation. Rackaway’s analysis of voter participation is the sloppiest of all. He suggested Kansas’ participation rate of 66.8 percent in November 2012 was too low. And he blamed it on Kansas’ proof of citizenship requirement, claiming that “changing registration laws impact turnout greatly.” However, Rackaway failed to mention that the proof of citizenship requirement went into effect in January 2013, after the 2012 election. So it had no effect whatsoever on 2012 turnout.

The No. 1 factor driving voter participation is dueling between large campaigns. If there’s no big election battle, fewer voters take interest. In 2012, there was a presidential race on the ballot, but no statewide contest. That meant there was no statewide campaign engaging in get-out-the-vote efforts. That happens every 12 years in Kansas. So if we compare 2012 to 2000, the last comparable year, we see that voter turnout was nearly identical: 66.8 percent in 2012 and 66.7 percent in 2000. Thus 2012 voter turnout was exactly consistent with past turnout.

4. Low wait times. Rackaway also ignores what voters notice most when they go to the polls — how long the line is. Kansas is doing extremely well in this regard. According to an MIT study, our average wait time was only 10 minutes in 2012, well below the national average of 13.3 minutes. One reason voting is so fast in Kansas is that we combine photo ID with electronic poll books — both reforms I have pushed. The result is that the voter has his ID card ready; and the poll worker scans the ID quickly rather than flipping through poll book pages. Under my watch, the number of counties with electronic poll books has risen to 74.

5. Nationally recognized for effectiveness. Rackaway was evidently unaware that in 2013 Google and Pew recognized the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office “for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of elections through open data.” Kansas was one of only nine states to receive this award.

6. Stopping voter fraud. Finally, and most importantly, Rackaway fails to mention the fact that Kansas leads the nation in election security. In 2011, Kansas became the first state to combine photo-ID, equivalent security for mail-in ballots, and proof of citizenship for newly-registering voters. Other states have copied the Kansas model, including Alabama and Pennsylvania. We have demonstrated that it is possible to make it easy to vote, but difficult to cheat.

In short, Kansas is not only doing well, we are one of the top states in the country in effectively administering elections.

Kris W. Kobach is the Kansas secretary of state.

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