Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a notorious voter suppression architect, is the only election official in the country with prosecutorial power. He secured that authority earlier this year, the latest step in his crusade to go after what he views as rampant voter fraud throughout his state.
Earlier this month, he filed his first criminal charges. The targets: three people he says committed voter fraud in the 2010 election.
Research shows that new voting restrictions enacted by states across the country prevents voters — particularly minorities and younger citizens — from casting ballots. And according to the Brennan Center for Justice, voter fraud is a non-issue and most alleged fraud in elections relates to unintentional mistakes by voters or election administrators.
But Kobach would disagree. To him, the three people he’s decided to prosecute have committed a “serious crime.” One is convicted of a felony, meaning he faces up to seven months in prison. Two others face misdemeanor charges.
Some information about these potential convicts:
Steven Gaedtke and Betty Gaedtke
Steven Gaedtke, 60, and Betty Gaedtke, 61 have been charged with misdemeanors for allegedly voting in both Kansas and Arkansas during the 2010 general election. Steven, a Vietnam veteran, and Betty, a volunteer domestic violence educator, built a cabin in Arkansas when they retired. In 2010, the couple applied for advance ballots in Kansas and submitted them. But at the time, they were traveling back and forth between Kansas and their new cabin in Arkansas, and they also voted in person in Arkansas. Because 2010 was not a presidential election year, the Gaedtkes did not understand that they were doing anything wrong because they weren’t voting for the same candidates twice.
“It was a stressful time for them and in the confusion they made a mistake,” Trey Pettlon, their attorney, told the Kansas City Star. “They didn’t intend to do anything illegal. They have a long track record of being good citizens.”
The Gaedtkes’ case will be heard in court on December 3.
Lincoln L. Wilson
The felony complaint filed against 64-year-old Lincoln L. Wilson alleges that he voted in 2010, 2012, and 2014 in Kansas despite not being lawfully registered, according to the Wichita Eagle. Wilson, who lives part time in both Kansas and Colorado, admitted to voting in both states.
“But I know for a fact that I only voted for one president,” Wilson told the Eagle. “The issues in Kansas that I vote for would’ve been for that general election, such as property tax … and if I voted for a senator or a representative in the state of Kansas, that would have nothing to do with a senator or a representative in the state of Colorado.”
Wilson said he did not understand that he could not vote in two states because neither state’s voter registration form was a federal form. He thought he could only vote in one county in each of his home states.
Wilson, who said he was shocked to find out he was being prosecuted, will appear in court for the first time on November 3. He faces three counts of election perjury.
Kobach told the Eagle that “the evidence in both cases is very strong that the individuals in question intentionally voted multiple times in the same election.”
Since taking office in 2011, Kobach has attempted to purge the state’s voter rolls and pushed for the enactment of a voter ID law. He says he has identified 100 cases of potential voting in the 2014 election — a tiny percentage of the total number of votes cast — and sought prosecutorial power because he claimed district attorneys did not have the time or resources to adequately prosecute these crimes.
Kobach, who spearheaded many draconian anti-immigrant laws including Arizona’s SB 1070, has also aimed voter suppression efforts at immigrants. He enacted a law in 2013 requiring people to provide proof of citizenship when registering to vote and created a list of roughly 12,000 suspended voter registration forms in the first few months. But after a year, he admitted that more than one-third of the 20,000 voters whose registrations were suspended were actually eligible voters.