Kansas Secretary Of State Close To Expanding His Own Voter Fraud Enforcement Power

After a year in which voting lines proved to be a much bigger problem than alleged voter fraud, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) is gaining traction for his proposal to give himself more power to prosecute such cases. The power to investigate and charge individuals in cases of alleged election fraud now rests with local criminal prosecutors. But under a bill that has now passed in different forms in both houses of the state legislature, that power would be moved to Kobach’s office. The Associated Press reports:

The secretary of state is Kansas’ chief elections official but must refer cases of potential election irregularities to county and federal prosecutors if criminal charges are to be pursued. Even the state attorney general’s office must consult with local prosecutors on such cases.

Kobach said county prosecutors have too many other criminal cases to handle to pursue election fraud allegations aggressively, and the attorney general’s office also has “a very full plate.” He said the secretary of state’s office is most likely to pursue election fraud allegations aggressively and develop expertise in investigating them. […]

Rep. Jan Pauls, a Hutchinson Democrat, said if legislators want a state official to have the specific authority to prosecute election fraud cases, it should go to the attorney general’s office.

“The AG should be in control of all the prosecutions, or the local district and county attorneys,” she said. “It’s nice to have everybody’s role stay the same as it has been traditionally.”

Kobach’s critics also contend that he’s overstated the potential for election abuses both in pushing for expanded authority for his office and successfully pursuing the photo ID and proof-of-citizenship laws in Kansas. Election fraud prosecutions have been relatively few over the past decade, and the state has about 1.7 million registered voters.

But Kobach argues that Kansas appears to have few cases because election irregularities aren’t pursued aggressively. He said his office has found at least 30 cases from the 2012 election in which the name and birthdate of someone who voted in Kansas matched the name and birthdate of someone who voted in another state, suggesting illegal, double voting.

Nationwide, voter fraud is an exceedingly rare occurrence, and Americans are more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud. When Kobach ran on a platform to fight voter fraud in 2010, investigations found that Kobach’s claims were vastly overstated. Over the course of a five-year period, there had only been seven cases of alleged voter fraud at the local, state, and federal law, and just one of those incidents had been prosecuted. When Kobach floated this bill to assume prosecutorial power last year, a Democratic state representative who questioned Kobach’s slate of potential voter fraud cases found that most of them concerned snow birds who live half the year in Kansas and half elsewhere and may end up registering in two places with no ill intent. “I can’t wait for him to drag some snowbird off to jail,” Rep. Ann Mah said. Nonetheless, Kobach has continued to tout strict voter ID laws and greater state resources pumped into combating this alleged problem.

Moving prosecutions to Kobach’s office could lead to politicized criminal charges. A former advisor to Mitt Romney, Kobach been a leader in the anti-immigrant movement, and is known for having helped to draft Arizona’s controversial and partially invalidated immigration law, SB 1070, and as a top proponent of strict voter ID laws that disproportionately disfranchise minorities. Kobach was previously counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of an organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This year, with more conservative Republicans replacing moderates in the state legislature, the bill seems poised to pass if the houses can reconcile the two versions, as expected, and gain Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) signature.