Voter ID Debate Ramping Up Again For 2012 More than half of states require or request voters to present some type of identification at the polls. Nine of those states require voters to present a government-issued photo ID, and in January, Kansas will become number ten.

Voter ID Debate Ramping Up Again For 2012

Voter ID Debate Ramping Up Again For 2012

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

More than half of states require or request voters to present some type of identification at the polls. Nine of those states require voters to present a government-issued photo ID, and in January, Kansas will become number ten.


Christina Bellantoni, associate politics editor, CQ Roll Call
Justin Levitt, associate professor of law, Loyola Law School
Kris Kobach, secretary of state, Kansas


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Over half the states require some type of identification before you can vote, and many now demand a government-issued photo ID. Last week, after sometimes bitter debate, the Texas legislature sent a photo ID bill to Governor Rick Perry, who is expected to sign it.

Supporters argue these changes preserve the integrity of elections and prevent voter fraud. Opponents argue that voter fraud is nearly nonexistent and that these laws are partisan efforts to hold down the votes of minorities, the poor and the young, groups which tend to vote Democratic.

If you don't have a government-issued photo ID, why not? Would you go to get one if you needed it to vote? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, the curriculum and the effects of John school, but first voter ID laws. Christina Bellantoni is the associate politics editor at CQ Roll Call and joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you with us today.

Ms. CHRISTINA BELLANTONI (Associate Politics Editor, CQ Roll Call): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And Texas would be number 11 to require photo IDs. The Kansas law goes into effect in January. This appears to be a growing trend, specifically with photos.

Ms. BELLANTONI: Yeah, and it looks like there's going to be more on tap. You've got Wisconsin, this is coming up, probably. Voters in Missouri are going to have this as a ballot test to be able to say yes, we want to require this.

And it's really an issue that has - there's a lot of passion on both sides. You've got - you have conservatives in many cases feel that this is a fundamental issue to prevent voter fraud. They often like to throw around terms saying Democrats have stolen an election.

You know, you've got a lot of people on, you know, they'd want to call themselves progressives, you know, or on the civil rights side saying this could disenfranchise voters. And the real question is just, you know, what should those requirements be? The Supreme Court obviously feels that this is constitutional, and it is OK.

CONAN: The Supreme Court tested the law when it was adopted in Indiana.

Ms. BELLANTONI: Yeah, this was an April 2008 decision and a six-three decision. They upheld Indiana's law, saying that it was indeed constitutional. It was OK to ask for this information, although it is important to note that the states do have to make the IDs available for free to be able to say they're not disenfranchising voters.

CONAN: Yet sometimes it can require, as was presented to the Supreme Court, somebody getting a birth certificate from out of state, which can cost them some money.

Ms. BELLANTONI: Sure, or getting to the DMV or taking a day off of work so you could go show up at the government office to get that ID. I mean, you can make this argument, you know, trace it down the line to say: Well, maybe that could disenfranchise a poor person or a working person or somebody whose English skills are not very strong. But I think that there's not a real clear argument for either side.

CONAN: Not a real clear argument. So we don't know. How many cases of voter fraud are there?

Ms. BELLANTONI: Right. It's very difficult to prove that. I mean, you've got multiple accusations thrown around. I heard from some Minnesota Tea Partiers on a recent story I was out there for. They had this example. They claimed that Democrats were putting illegal immigrants on a bus and busing them from polling place to polling place to polling place and getting them to go in and vote for the Democratic candidate.

They really feel that, for example, Senator Al Franken is an illegitimate senator. They feel that he stole that vote from Senator Norm Coleman in the 2008 race, which as we all remember went on in a long recount.

But there's no proof of that, and certainly they have - these Tea Partiers in particular who I spoke with, they have volunteered at their polling place to be able to be poll watchers, and they found no evidence in 2010 of anybody trying to steal the vote.

So it's definitely a question of what you can prove or if this is really just a legislative area where people can let their passions out about whether it's immigration or civil rights.

CONAN: On the other side, photo ID does not seem to be an insuperable burden to getting a driver's license, which a lot of people seem to enjoy.

Ms. BELLANTONI: Exactly, and proponents will say - you know, Governor Nikki Haley in South Carolina, a Republican who just signed a law there requiring photo ID, you know, she said you have to show photo ID to get, you know, Sudafed in most states at this point because people are concerned that that could be used to make drugs down the line.

Or you use it in so many different cases, to rent a video or to go to the grocery store to get cash back. Many, many cases, you do have to show photo ID. So this shouldn't be that big of a burden is sort of the argument from proponents.

CONAN: And is there - I know that there are some statistics that say as many as 11 percent of the American population could be disenfranchised. Are those figures solid?

Ms. BELLANTONI: I'm not an expert to be able to know that. I mean, those figures, it's possible that that could be solid. I think the issue is really about whether somebody will go, as you posed this question, and go get a photo ID if they don't have one because they really strongly want to vote. And I think that that's where the civil rights groups say there's enough of a question there that these laws aren't fair.

CONAN: There are also voter - motor voter laws, that in other words, if you go register for your driver's license or an ID that's a non-driver's license, you can at the same time register to vote.

Ms. BELLANTONI: And there are people who have opposed that for a long time, as well. They say that that's - it's too easy. It should be more difficult to be able to register to vote.

So there's definitely, you know, strong opinions on both sides of the issue here.

CONAN: All right, let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation. If you do not have a photo ID, give us a call and explain why not. And would you go get one if it was required to vote? 800-989-8255. Email us, Pete's on the line calling from Depew in Illinois.

PETE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Pete. Do you have a photo ID?

PETE: I have a photo ID, yes. It's not specifically for a voting purpose. It's a driver's license.

CONAN: Well, that's all you'd need, presumably.

PETE: Yeah, in my community, that is all you need. In fact, they already require that.

CONAN: They already require - and is it an issue where you are?

PETE: No, it's not an issue. It's just a given. You know, OK, show your ID. Oh, that's who you are. Great, OK, sign here.

CONAN: And does it slow things down at the voting booth?

PETE: Absolutely not because we had two people who just sit there waiting to -I mean, I live in a small community. That's mainly really the reason. But...

CONAN: Well, it's a statewide law, but, you know...

PETE: It just streamlines it. You walk in there, they saw show your photo ID. You show your driver's license. OK, sign here, and here's your ballot, go vote.

CONAN: All right, Pete, thanks very much for the call.

PETE: Thank you.

CONAN: Justin Levitt is an associate professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He coordinated briefs against the Indiana law back in 2008, a law, as we mentioned upheld by the Supreme Court. And he joins us from the Marketplace Studios in Los Angeles. Nice to have you with us today.

Professor JUSTIN LEVITT (Loyola Law School): Thanks very much, Neal. I appreciate the invitation.

CONAN: And again, if you want to take an airplane anywhere, if you want to drive a car, if you want to cash a check, if you want to buy Sudafed, you need a photo ID. What's the big deal?

Prof. LEVITT: Well, actually, Neal, it's important that your listeners know that's actually not true. It's often said, but I can call myself Brad Pitt all I want, it doesn't make it true. And neither is it true that you need a photo ID in order to, for example, fly a plane or fly on a plane.

For decades now, the Transportation Security Administration and its predecessor has had a protocol where they ask for photo ID, but if you don't have one - and this is the crucial point, you go through a little extra process, and you get to fly anyway.

In fact, on a flight down to Texas to testify about their photo ID bill, a version of it several years ago, I was behind a woman in line who didn't have a photo ID, and lo and behold, she was sitting across the aisle when I actually got on the plane.

CONAN: All right. So to fly a plane, you can go to a little extra trouble, and it's not a problem. You do need one to drive a car.

Prof. LEVITT: You do need one to drive a car. Not everyone does drive a car. And I guess stepping back, that's the real point. You know, it's a constitutional right and a constitutional obligation to vote, and a lot of people have fought very hard, and many have died, in order to preserve that right.

There isn't a constitutional right to drive a car. There isn't a constitutional right to be able to buy Sudafed. There are lots of things for which you need a photo ID that aren't fundamentally part of the structure of government.

You know, 10 of the 26 amendments in the Constitution have to do with voting. It's right up there in Articles I and II, front and center. And I don't Sudafed or the ability to rent a car or even drive a car anywhere near on that list.

CONAN: Yet if this was something that discriminated disproportionately against the poor or minorities, presumably the Supreme Court would have had a problem with it.

Prof. LEVITT: Well, that's also both true and not true. In the case that you mentioned going up in Indiana was brought on a challenge before the law ever went into effect. They were trying to stop it before it started.

And what the Supreme Court said was: Hey, look, you haven't shown us any evidence that this is really going to keep eligible Indiana citizens from voting. You haven't shown us any evidence of the burden because the law hadn't been put into effect yet.

But as you opened the show, you opened with an Indiana voter who indeed this affected, and now there's a much broader record of people who have been kept from voting because of the Indiana law, and I fear that other states that adopt this will be heading the same direction.

CONAN: So is there a court case that's going to challenge this, that's going to go back before the Supreme Court?

Prof. LEVITT: There's not yet, in part because, as you heard from your caller and as you might hear from other callers, rounding up - getting count of people who don't have ID is difficult, costs a lot of money, and many of the groups that are fighting this don't have an awful lot of money to spend in order to bring those folks into court. So that takes time.

Down the road, as some of these laws I fear get more and more restrictive, you may see increasing evidence of people left out of the process, like Kim Tillman in Indiana, and hopefully legislatures will come to their senses and modify the laws they have.

But if it comes to that, I'm sure litigation is on the way.

CONAN: Christina Bellantoni?

Ms. BELLANTONI: I'd just like to make a little side point here that this is just such a good example of how elections have consequences. One of the reasons you're seeing a push for some of these laws now is because so many state legislatures turned over in 2010.

It was obviously an election where the Republicans took back control of the House of Representatives nationally, but you've had many, many state legislatures flip, and a lot of these laws passed by - whether signed by Republican governors or passed by a Republican legislature, these do matter.

And I think that that's important, you know, when you're talking about whether this is your constitutional obligation to vote, to consider those things. We always talk about how midterm elections are low turnout elections. Well, here are things that dramatically affect your everyday life and the everyday lives of people you care about, and this is something that you could see change in your state.

CONAN: And given that, Justin Levitt, given the closeness of, well, we mentioned earlier the Al Franken election in Minnesota, these do have consequences.

Prof. LEVITT: That's absolutely true. And I think Christina is absolutely right to identify the partisan switch as something that has propelled a lot of these bills forward. And it's made them real political possibilities.

I think in my mind that's unfortunate because this really shouldn't - it very much is but shouldn't be a partisan issue. I think that everybody involved in the issue wants to make sure that as many eligible Americans can vote as possible, conveniently, while making sure that the elections are secure at the same time.

I just think that the parties tend to have very different ways of going about it, and at least in my view, the statistics on either side that requiring, really forcing people to show one particular card ends up on the wrong side of that ledger.

CONAN: We're going to thank Christina Bellantoni for her time. She's the associate politics editor at CQ Roll Call and joined us here in Studio 3A. Thanks very much.

Ms. BELLANTONI: Thanks, have a great afternoon.

CONAN: Justin Levitt's going to stay with us, and when we return, Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, co-author of a law that in that state will require photo ID, will join us.

We'd like you to join us, too. If you are among those who does not have a government-issued photo ID, if you don't have one, why not? And if you were required to have one to vote, would you go get one? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Twenty-eight states have some sort of voter ID requirement on the books, a government-issued photo ID in eight states with two more set to follow in the coming months.

Similar proposals in various stages are along the lines in other state capitals. The Supreme Court ruled most of these laws constitutional in 2008. That did not end the controversy.

We're talking today about the arguments on both sides of this debate. Are voter ID laws necessary to help prevent fraud, or do they put a hefty and expensive burden on too many voters who may not have photo ID?

If you are among those, if you do not have a government-issued photo identification, why not? And would you go get one if you needed it to vote? 800-989-8255. Email You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guest is Justin Levitt, an expert on election law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, who coordinated briefs against Indiana's voter ID law. In a piece in the Wall Street Journal, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach argued that since photo IDs are already required for many routine daily activities, it's not unreasonable to require one in order to protect our most important privilege of citizenship.

Kris Kobach joins us now from a studio in Topeka. Good of you to be with us today.

Secretary KRIS KOBACH (Kansas Secretary of State): Good to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And Texas Governor Rick Perry is expected to sign a bill that would require photo ID, as well. An op-ed in the San Antonio Express called this a bogus solution for a pretend crisis. Is there consistent and persistent problem with voter fraud?

Sec. KOBACH: Well, the statistics say there is. In Kansas, we looked at all of the reports of voter fraud from 1997 to 2010 on 221 cases of reported voter fraud. And you look at some of the other numbers. We do have a persistent problem that is evident in many states of aliens being registered on our voter rolls, sometimes unintentionally, but regardless, if an alien votes, that does disenfranchise - it cancels out the vote of a U.S. citizen.

We found 67 aliens on our voter rolls so far, and that's just the beginning of our survey. Colorado has found nearly 11,000, over 11,000 aliens on their voter rolls, of whom nearly 5,000 voted in the 2010 election. So that's 5,000 U.S. citizens whose votes were canceled out.

CONAN: In Kansas, how many of those cases have been prosecuted?

Sec. KOBACH: That's the interesting thing. The - we have these 221 cases, but usually the cases are reported to a county attorney. The county attorney has, you know, arson cases, rape cases, very serious crimes.

And these cases oftentimes don't even get investigated because someone's alleging that one person committed voter fraud in an election where the margin of victory was 2,000 votes. And as a result, many don't even get investigated.

CONAN: So these are allegations. There's no proof.

Sec. KOBACH: Yeah - well, they're reports, but they've also been - all of these reports have gone through at least an initial vetting, and so they're credible reports. Incredible ones were thrown out.

CONAN: And what do you make of the argument that this would disenfranchise people who don't have a government-issued photo ID, don't drive and don't care to?

Sec. KOBACH: Well, I make very little of the argument because in Kansas and in Indiana, which of course prevailed in the United States Supreme Court by a six-to-three vote with Justice Stevens writing, we make allowance and say if you don't have a photo ID, the state will provide you one for free.

So all it is is an extra step in the process, similar to registering to vote, which you must do in all 50 states. You know, one could argue that, well, registering is inconvenient. I shouldn't have to register before I vote. But again, the same argument would apply there. We're just asking if you don't have one, the state will give you one for free.

And by the way in Kansas, the people who are most likely - and there are very, very few people who don't have a photo ID - the most likely ones are people who are very old, in advanced stages of their life, maybe confined to a nursing home, and they don't drive anymore.

In Kansas, we take care of that, as well. We say if you are over the age of 65, you can use an expired ID. We don't care if it attests to the fact that you can still drive. We just want to know that you have an identification with your photo on it saying you are who you say you are.

CONAN: Justin Levitt, if the state provides a free voter ID, again what's the problem?

Prof. LEVITT: Well, the problem generally, Neal, is that it takes ID to get ID. And that's true in Kansas just like it is anywhere else. If you had ID at one point, or you have ID now and it's expired or from another state, it's relatively straightforward to get new ID in the state or jurisdiction of your choice.

If the problem is that you don't have ID, it's actually quite a bureaucratic maze in order to get it. And I think, again, from the lead, your voter Kim Tillman in Indiana showed one example of it's actually quite difficult to round up the documentation necessary to get documentation. It ends up a little bit of a bureaucratic cycle.

One other point, I know that the secretary mentioned the incidence of fraud; one factual correction and then just one putting that in perspective. Colorado didn't actually find thousands of people who were illegally registered or who had illegally voted. It found thousands of people who, at one point, weren't citizens and then voted. But many of them became citizens well before they registered or voted and so voted perfectly legally.

But even if you take the secretary's statistics at face value, even if you say in Kansas, he found in 13 years 221 people, and even if all of those allegations pan out, that's 221 people over 13 years in the same span of time that 10 million Kansans cast ballots. That's a problem at two-thousandths of a percent of the electorate.

And so if you're creating a hassle for more than two-thousandths of a percent of the electorate, your cure is actually much worse than your disease.

CONAN: Kris Kobach, if that statistic is right, it doesn't seem to be that big a problem.

Sec. KOBACH: Well, this is always the approach from the left when confronted with this issue, and they want to say that oh, voter fraud's not a problem. They'll take the incidents of reported cases of voter fraud, and then they'll compare it to all votes cast over a period, and they'll say: See what a tiny percentage that is?

But that's not the meaningful way to look at these numbers. The way you look at it is you look at close election. So for example, there was the case which I wrote about in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, the case of the primary between J.J. Rizzo and William Royster on the Missouri side, actually, in a state legislative race.

The election was won by one vote, yet the allegations were that more than 50 noncitizens voted in an election. They were Somalis, and they were coached to vote by someone there at the polling place.

So, you know, if you look at it, sure you say wow, that's only a few hundred illegally cast votes. But then when you get to the individual election, where it is won by only a handful of votes, you have a problem.

There are other examples. In the state of Kansas, we had a general election...

CONAN: Before you go on, just for a second, again is there any proof of that? Is this being investigated? Are those people being charged?

Sec. KOBACH: Oh yeah, yeah, it's still being investigated. Right now, it's in the stage where the Missouri Legislature has to decide what to do in terms of, you know, whether they continue to allow the individual who quote-unquote "won" the election retain his seat.

CONAN: That's about the election. What about the people who - the person who coached them. Is anybody being investigated for the crime?

Sec. KOBACH: Yeah, interestingly, what happened is the court looked at it, and the court said well, we can only assess whether a person who was duly registered voted on that day in determining whether the elections board of that county made any error.

And they said: Well, all these people are duly registered. So therefore we can't find an error. But of course, they didn't investigate whether the people were eligible to register in the first place.

So unraveling voter fraud after the fact is a very complicated process, and...

CONAN: I'll accept that, but you also have to accept that what the court just said is there's no proof.

Sec. KOBACH: No, no, no, what the court just said is that the individuals...

CONAN: Is they can't prove it.

Sec. KOBACH: No, no, no, no. The court said, in the Missouri case, that these individuals are on the voter rolls. We are not addressing the question of whether these individuals are eligible to be on the voter rolls because they are not U.S. citizens.

The courts oftentimes, when they take a case, they will only answer the narrow question presented by the statute at issue. They will not answer other questions, which are of course relevant to the dispute.

CONAN: We could go around and around on this all day. But is anybody being charged with the crime of voter fraud?

Sec. KOBACH: In which case?

CONAN: In the Somali case that you just cited.

Sec. KOBACH: I'm not aware of any criminal charges yet. But again, the question is you have to go to the secondary analysis and look at whether these individuals were U.S. citizens or not, and that hasn't been done. And that exemplifies the problem I pointed out, and that is that county law enforcement officials usually don't make prosecution of voter-related crimes a high priority.

CONAN: All right. Let's...

Sec. KOBACH: So you really have to have a preventative in place in front of the election. You have to ensure that you're checking a person's citizenship when they register, and that's another thing we do in Kansas, with our new Secure and Fair Elections Act.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. Let's start with Jeremy and Jeremy with us from Portland.

JEREMY (Caller): Yeah, I have - I've lived in Portland for 10 years. I tried to get Oregon ID. I didn't try very hard. They wanted about eight pieces of ID. I don't drive. So it wasn't very pressing.

I had, you know, current California ID. When that expired, I happened to be in California. I'd flown in legally. I got new ID while I was there using a friend's address, and I've continued to live without ID.

I'm sort of a haphazard voter. I spent most of my life, you know, wearing a shirt that said piss in the voting booth on Election Day. I have since started voting irregularly, and I would definitely not get ID if I had to.

And I would feel somewhat disenfranchised, even though I don't value the franchise a whole lot. Oregon charges like $50, and, you know, they list things like plane licenses. I don't use credit cards, either, you know, plane licenses, hunting licenses and various other things that are considered legitimate, and I don't have any of those things.

And even with current California ID, if I were to get another one, which would be - I'd be committing fraud to do so, I would have trouble getting Oregon ID. It's really not that easy to get ID, I don't believe.

CONAN: Really?

JEREMY: That's with my, you know, limited halfhearted attempt. To be honest, I wouldn't mind moving back to California. I hate the climate here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JEREMY: I just can't afford to live there anymore. So I'm also making some sort of, you know, nostalgic statement about, you know, where I wish I lived.

CONAN: OK. I could understand that. Thanks very much for the call, Jeremy.

A sometimes voter. And, Kris Kobach, some would say that, in fact, the bigger problem than voter fraud is voter, well, apathy, and the lower numbers of people that participate, and that we should be more worried about getting people like him to make it easier for him to come and vote, rather than make it more difficult.

Sec. KOBACH: Well, we certainly shouldn't be putting undue impediments in his way, and I don't think requiring Jeremy to get a photo ID is an undue impediment if the state does what Kansas does and Indiana did and require - and makes these IDs free for anyone who wants one. So it's all - the only inconvenience is the walk or the drive over to an office. Now, presumably, Justin would be walking because he's probably not...

CONAN: Taking the bus, I'm sure.

Sec. KOBACH: Yeah. I guess. But, you know, I want to go to the question of, you know, are there many people out there, like Jeremy, in that situation? One figure which we mentioned in an earlier segment was this 11 percent figure which the Brennan Center from NYU uses. It's based on a 2006 survey. You know, it was just a survey calling people on the phone. You know, we don't have to use surveys when we can actually use the real numbers, and that's what we did in Kansas. We actually found the total number of Kansas driver's license and non-driver IDs in circulation. It was - 2,156,000.

Then, we looked at the total number of Kansans of voting age, according to the 2010 census. It was 2,126,000, meaning that there were actually 30,000 more IDs in circulation than there are Kansas residents.

So we found that it's a myth that 11 percent of the electorate doesn't have photo IDs. At least in our state, it appears that just about every single person has one.

CONAN: That differs presumably people between 16 and 18. But, Justin Levitt...

Sec. KOBACH: No, no. We took into account the 16-, 18-year-olds to pull those numbers up.

CONAN: All right. Justin Levitt, your response to that. Are those numbers convincing to you?

Prof. LEVITT: No. And if only that were true. I think it's true that we're fighting over relatively small numbers. That is everybody agrees that the vast majority of American citizens have some sort of ID, but the 10 to 11 percent figure has actually been confirmed over time.

One note on Secretary Kobach's study, that's the same methodology that was used by the plaintiffs in Indiana, comparing the motor vehicle rolls to the current census population. And the federal judge who upheld Indiana's ID requirement tossed out that stat, tossed out that calculation as wholly incredible and unreliable. And there were a laundry list of about four pages of the opinion going through all of the problems with trying to measure up from motor vehicle rolls, which can have a lot of expired people or people who move on or other things, to the current census population.

The best way to find out if your public actually has the ID you're requiring is to ask them. It's true the Brennan Center did a study in 2006. If that's too dated for you, then you can look today. Professor Sanchez, Nuno and Barreto -it's up on - just looked at national information from 2008. And they asked a question, national survey, and the survey population is quite large and found that, yes, the vast majority of Americans have photo ID but significant percentages of them don't.

And even more important, that's not true equally across racial lines. So they found that 5 percent of Anglo-Americans don't have current government-issued photo ID, 10 percent of African-Americans don't have a current government-issued photo ID, 14 percent of Asian-Americans, 11 percent of Latino-Americans. These are American citizens. These are registered voters, actually, who just don't have the ID required. There are a lot of more Jeremys out there than most of us think.

CONAN: We're talking about photo ID requirements to vote. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let me reintroduce our guests. You just heard Justin Levitt, an associate professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, a former counsel at the Brennan Center, and joined us - he's at the studios of Marketplace in Los Angeles. Also with us Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state and the former counsel to the U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and a former professor of law at the University of Missouri at Kansas City with us from Topeka.

Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Rolanda(ph). Rolanda with us from South Bend.

ROLANDA (Caller): I want to make the point that many seniors are potentially disenfranchised by this law. My mother turns 90 on Monday. She suffers from macular degeneration. And about five years ago when she decided she could no longer drive, she tried to get a voter - a photo ID from the driver's license bureau. Something between the driver's license bureau in Indiana now and Social Security didn't match up.

And they told her that she needed to produce her marriage certificate from 57 years ago. This is despite the fact that she's taught high school in Indiana for 25 years. So, again, seniors have a lot of trouble producing the documents that are required to get the kind of ID that enables them to vote after they can no longer drive.

CONAN: So she is unable to vote now in the state of Indiana?

ROLANDA: Thankfully, she had a passport that she got a number of years ago, and she could still vote. But I am concerned that there are many people who don't have passport in hand and are disenfranchised.

CONAN: All right. Rolanda, thanks very much for the call.

A couple of questions. Kris Kobach, some might say absentee voters will have a hard time qualifying as well.

Sec. KOBACH: Well, I don't think so. We took that into account in Kansas as well, and the - we did tighten up absentee voting. The way we tightened it up is we required signature verification by the county election officer. So when you're - in most states, you request an absentee ballot. You send in a form that you've printed off on your computer at home, and you sign the form saying this is me, and I request an absentee ballot.

We are now going to be verifying the signature so that, you know, the state has a PDF of everybody's signature who's on our voter roll, make sure they match because we do have many, many cases of absentee ballot fraud. Indeed, absentee voting is the easiest way to commit voter fraud. You can vote absentee if you know there are people in your neighborhood who moved away and are still on the voter rolls, and I think Justin would agree that that's a very pervasive problem in all 50 states.

You can also register fictitious individuals. I could register 10 people at my house, give them all my surname Kobach and then vote their IDs. There will be -there's nothing stopping me in most states from doing so, but the Kansas...

CONAN: And I...

Sec. KOBACH: will now prevent that.

CONAN: I don't mean to cut you off, but I have to give Justin Levitt 20 seconds to respond.

Prof. LEVITT: Well, actually, on this line, I mostly agree with the secretary that absentee fraud is a far more serious problem, and that in this respect, he's been remarkably consistent and should be credited for doing so.

Most states that have these sorts of new laws exempt their absentee process and leave the largest opportunity for fraud wide open. At least in this respect, he's making life harder across the board for everyone, and that's some measure of consistency to praise.

CONAN: Justin Levitt, thank you very much for your time today. And, Kris Kobach, thank you for your time today.

Sec. KOBACH: My pleasure.

CONAN: When we come back, we're going to be talking about what happens when you're sentenced to John School. We'll talk about a program for men charged with solicitation. If you'd been to John School, give us a call. 800-989-8255. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.