By Deb Gruver
Voter turnout between 2008 and 2012 took a bigger hit in Kansas than other states, and that's likely due to voter ID requirements, a study released by U.S. Government Accountability Office Wednesday argues. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach disagrees with the methodology of the report, which was requested by four Democratic and one independent U.S. Senate leaders.
There were no statewide political campaigns in Kansas in 2012, Kobach noted in a rebuttal letter to the GAO.
"There was no U.S. Senate race in 2012," he said. "Presidential campaigns typically are not active in Kansas due to the perception that Kansas is a 'safe' Republican state. Consequently, there were no get-out-the-vote efforts whatsoever. Therefore, a comparison of Kansas to neighboring states or to states that had any statewide races is largely irrelevant.
It is an apples to orange comparison."
"I think the GAO just got it dead wrong," Kobach told The Eagle Wednesday. "This year we have a very competitive U.S. Senate race and lots of get-out-the-vote efforts. It's a huge factor in driving turnout when campaigns spend this kind of money."
Kobach also said it would have been more accurate to compare Kansas' turnout in 2012 to its turnout in 2000, the last time there were no U.S. Senate or statewide offices on the ballot. In 2000, voter turnout was 66.7 percent, and in 2012, it was 66.8 percent.
The report says voter turnout decreased in Kansas and Tennessee from the 2008 to the 2012 general elections to a greater extent than turnout decreased in selected comparison states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware and Maine. Tennessee's secretary of state, Tre Hargett, also called the study flawed.
The GAO stood by its study, saying its "methodology was robust and valid."
Rebecca Gambler, director of homeland security and justice issues for the GAO, said the agency selected Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware and Maine for comparison because they did not have any changes to their state voter ID requirements between 2008 and 2012.
"They didn't have other contemporaneous changes. They had similar election cycles to Kansas and Tennessee," Gambler said.
The GAO reported that its analysis "suggests that the turnout decreases in Kansas and Tennessee beyond decreases in comparison states were attributable to changes in the two states' voter ID requirements."
Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, Kansans were required to show a photo ID issued by the government or an Indian tribe before they could vote.
Turnout declined in all six states analyzed between 2008 and 2012. But it declined by a larger amount in Kansas and Tennessee -- 1.9 to 2.2 and 2.2 to 3.2 percentage points, respectively.
Race, age and length of voter registration also were factors that reduced turnout in Kansas and Tennessee by even greater amounts, the study said. Turnout was lower in Kansas and Tennessee for registrants who were between ages18 and 23 than among registrants 44 to 53 as of 2008. It also was lower for registrants who had been registered less than one year than among those who had been registered 20 years or more and among African-Americans than among white, Asian-American and Hispanic registrants.
As of June, 33 states had enacted requirements for voters to show ID at the polls, according to the study.
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