Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's legislation to require voters to show photo identification at the polls won first-round approval Thursday in the state House.
House member's 78-36 vote advanced the bill to final action. The margin suggests the measure has more than enough support to pass on that final vote, set for Friday, and will go to the Senate.
The bill also would require people registering to vote for the first time in Kansas to provide proof that they're citizens. It increases the penalties for election crimes and gives the secretary of state's office the power to file and prosecute election fraud cases in state courts, along with county prosecutors and the attorney general's office.
The measure's enactment would make Kansas the 10th state with a photo ID law, but Kobach has said the requirement _ combined with other provisions in the bill _ would give his state the strongest election fraud laws in the nation.
"Once this bill becomes law, Kansas will stand head and shoulders above the other 49 states in protecting the integrity of our elections," Kobach said in a statement after the vote.
Opponents, mostly Democrats, argued that Kobach's proposals would seriously hamper efforts to register voters door-to-door or at sites such as libraries and grocery stores. They also contend thousands of Kansans either won't be able to vote or will have their votes not counted because of the requirements.
Kobach's proposals also drew criticism because of his conservative Republican politics. He's a Kansas City-area law professor on leave, known nationally for advising city officials and legislators in other states about cracking down on illegal immigration. He also helped draft the immigration law Arizona enacted last year.
Democratic critics conceded up front in Thursday's debate that they weren't going to stop Kobach's legislation from advancing. The GOP holds a 92-33 majority in the House, and most Republicans there like Kobach's proposals.
"I know this bill is going to come flying out of here," Rep. Ann Mah, of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the House Elections Committee, said during the debate. "I don't have any intention of going through this whole bill. It has a lot of holes."
The GOP-controlled Kansas Legislature approved a photo-ID bill in 2008, but Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed it. Kobach won last year's election after emphasizing election fraud as an issue, and new Gov. Sam Brownback, also a Republican, supports photo-ID and proof-of-citizenship requirements.
"We're in a society where you need an ID for almost anything type of transaction you're doing _ oh, except for voting," said House Elections Committee Chairman Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican. "And the voters want it."
Last month, Kobach released a report saying the secretary of state's office had received 59 reports of alleged irregularities involving at least 221 ballots since 1997 _ twice as many as documented by an internal report three years ago. He suggested those reports represent perhaps only 10 percent of what's actually occurred.
Skeptics contend the numbers still show the problem is not large enough to warrant the steps Kobach is proposing.
They argue that poor voters tend to move more often than wealthier ones, making them more likely to have their ballots set aside for further examination because the addresses on the ID won't match polling place books. They also see requiring proof of citizenship as an obstacle that's likely to discourage some people from registering, particularly if they have to hunt down a birth certificate or other document.
"For me, the real issue here is not about IDs or anything like that," said Rep. Eber Phelps, a Hays Democrat. "For me, the whole thing here is the amount of effort that we put into making voting more difficult."
But supporters of the bill argued that those potential problems are greatly overstated.
"It's very workable," said Rep. Mike Burgess, a Topeka Republican. "This has been a well-vetted bill."
The bill calls for the state to issue free non-driver ID cards to people who are receiving social services or who meet certain income guidelines. And it lists 13 documents that can provide proof of citizenship, including a passport, a birth certificate or a driver's license from any state that requires such proof of citizen to get it.
The proposed Secure and Fair Elections Act is HB 2067.
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
Kansas secretary of state: http://www.kssos.org