Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Friday that next year he’ll revive a proposal to give his office the power to prosecute election fraud cases, although he could face bipartisan skepticism from legislators.
Kobach had pushed the idea after taking office in 2011, and his efforts to win legislative approval of the idea fell just short of passage two years later, even though fellow Republicans controlled the Legislature. Kobach won a second four-year term in this month’s elections with 59 percent of the vote.
He persuaded legislators to enact a 2012 law requiring all voters to show photo identification at the polls and a 2013 statute requiring new voters to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship to register. But the secretary of state’s office can’t initiate election fraud prosecutions on its own, and such decisions are left to county or federal prosecutors.
“I’m very optimistic that we’ll get it passed,” Kobach said. “It’s the final piece in the puzzle in terms of preventing voter fraud.”
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Kobach argues that local prosecutors are too overburdened with other cases to spend much time pursuing allegations of election fraud. He said allowing his office to do so would help most with prosecuting allegations of people voting twice, in different locations, in the same election — something he said happens about a dozen times each election year.
State Rep. Keith Esau, an Olathe Republican who serves on the House Elections Committee, said: “It seems appropriate that somebody who has expertise in the area of voter fraud would be the one to pursue the cases of voter fraud.”
Kobach’s critics contend that he’s overstated the potential for election abuses, with relatively few fraud prosecutions over the past decade.
“Show me the election fraud. Show me the names of the individuals. Show me the issues that happened, because I’ll bet they’re few, if not none,” said Rep. John Alcala, a Topeka Democrat serving on the House Elections Committee. “If he can’t bring the proof, it means he doesn’t need it.”
Senate Elections and Ethics Committee Chairman Mitch Holmes, a St. John Republican, said a “good compromise” might be allowing the secretary of state’s office to recommend prosecutions to the state attorney general.
Both chambers in 2013 approved different versions of Kobach’s proposal. But negotiators writing a final compromise tied it to other criminal justice proposals, including one about the collection of DNA samples from criminal suspects. The DNA proposal inspired a backlash over civil-liberties issues and sank the entire package in the last hours lawmakers were in session that year.
Legislators will begin their next annual session in January.