With the recent dismissal of a voter fraud case against a former Olathe woman, Secretary of State Kris Kobach has secured just one conviction in his effort to crack down on illegal voting in Kansas.
But more convictions are coming, Kobach told The Star on Tuesday. He is expecting a guilty plea in a voter fraud case by Friday and another by the end of the month.
The conservative Republican pushed for legislation last year that gave him the authority to prosecute voter fraud. Gov. Sam Brownback signed the measure last summer, making Kobach the only secretary of state in the nation with such power.
At the time, Kobach said he had identified more than 100 potential instances of double voting, casting ballots in the same election in different jurisdictions.
Kobach announced three voter fraud cases last October and three more in January. One of the October cases resulted in a guilty plea in December, and one was dismissed last Friday.
Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said the results so far show that the extension of prosecutorial power to the secretary of state was “unnecessary and ill-advised.” Assessing and trying voter fraud cases should be in the hands of county prosecutors, he said.
“When it comes to prosecuting, actual prosecutors know their business best,” Kubic said.
Kobach maintained that county prosecutors don’t have time to devote to voter fraud cases. He forwarded cases to them, but the cases would languish, he said.
“They’re just so busy that with so many cases that these fall to the bottom of the stack,” he said.
The number of voter fraud cases also calls Kobach’s endeavor into question, Kubic said.
“After making a great hubbub of voter fraud running rampant, he has identified a total of six cases,” he said. “It demonstrates this is not a serious problem in Kansas. Voter fraud is very, very rare.”
But Kobach defended the caseload. That’s six cases his office has pursued since last July, using an existing staff of two or three attorneys focused on voter fraud prosecutions, he said.
“Six prosecutions in nine months is actually moving at a pretty good pace, and more will be coming in the months ahead,” he said.
Because of a five-year statute of limitations, Kobach said, he needed to focus first on potential cases from the 2010 and 2012 elections. There will be a “significant number” of cases from the 2014 election, he said.
Critics have complained that the cases brought by Kobach are more about voting mistakes or a misunderstanding of election laws rather than concerted efforts to alter elections. Typically they involve voting in person and by absentee ballot in different jurisdictions.
“It’s a complete waste of resources, time and tax dollars going after a red herring,” said Djuan Wash, communications director for Kansas People’s Action, a Wichita political group. “When it comes to factual-based evidence of voter fraud, it’s just not there.”
Kobach’s office last Friday dropped its voter fraud case against former Olathe resident Betty Gaedtke. It had been scheduled for a Monday trial. Filed in October, the case against Gaedtke and another against her husband, Steven Gaedtke, were among the first three brought by Kobach.
The Gaedtkes, who are in their 60s, were accused of voting in the 2010 general election by absentee ballot and in person in Kansas and Arkansas. Steven Gaedtke pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count and paid a $500 fine in December.
Kobach said the investigation ultimately determined that Steven Gaedtke had filled out ballots for both himself and his wife.
“That doesn’t look like a mistake,” Kobach said.
The prosecution of double voting and other types of voter fraud will have a deterrent effect, Kobach said. And that effect will be enhanced in future cases when more substantial fines enacted in 2015 can be assessed.
“One of the principal reasons of exercising this prosecutorial authority is letting people know they won’t get away with it,” he said.
Kobach said any instance of voter fraud is serious.
“Every time an illegal vote is cast, that effectively cancels out the vote of a legitimate voter,” he said. “In close elections, those illegal votes can alter an election.”