While all eyes were focused last week on the Kansas budget, without fanfare a new law was passed and sent to the governor to sign that turns Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office into the voter fraud police, as well as the state’s attorney general. Lawmakers and the governor took away the power from county district attorneys.
This is important because, alas, Kobach got what he wanted and can now go after “criminals” who vote twice and throw the book at them.
There’s just one little hitch.
To pull off his grandstand play, Kobach will only be able to rustle up a tiny number of offenders.
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Kobach claims he will go after 100 or so double-voting offenders from the 2014 election. The truth is, it is too soon to know much about the 2014 race. It takes a while for another state to match its voting database with that of Kansas to see whether someone did, indeed, vote in one state and then another. For example, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe does not yet have that 2014 election information and doesn’t expect it for quite some time.
In any case, Howe thinks the estimate of 100 is highly inflated and thinks once Kobach “drills down,” he will find there are few people to prosecute. He bases that on his own experience.
In Johnson County, where a quarter of all Kansans live, in the six years Howe has been in office, he has charged two individuals with double-voting. He put them in a “second chance” diversion program because they — in both cases — had never committed a crime in their lives.
In the overwhelming majority of cases referred to the district attorney, there were mitigating circumstances to explain the voting discrepancies. In all his years on the job, there have been fewer than a dozen cases that came to the attention of Howe’s office.
One elderly man was in the early stages of dementia. He voted twice without knowing what he was doing.
Another individual was developmentally disabled. He did not have the intellectual skills to know he was violating a law.
In another case, an elderly couple voted in Kansas with an early ballot and then moved to Arkansas soon after. They inadvertently voted again and were “mortified” to learn what they had done.
In another case, an elderly gentleman, who had voted early, accompanied his wife, who went to the polls to cast her ballot. Once there, he saw his name was on a list that he thought indicated he had not voted. So, he voted again with a provisional ballot.
According to Howe, that is precisely what someone should do if they don’t think their vote counted. Yet, this man had, technically, double-voted.
One more example — this one told to me by Johnson County Election Commissioner Brian Newby. A gentleman who mailed in his ballot at the very end of the allowed period, did not think, with the mail so unreliable, that his ballot would get there in time. So he voted again, with a provisional ballot.
As I said, Howe has found only two cases where individuals could not explain their double votes. Those would be the culprits whom Kobach would almost certainly make examples of, by prosecuting them to the full extent of the law — a new law, by the way, which has very stiff penalties. That was Kobach’s wish.
Kobach might argue that he also will be going after illegal immigrants who vote.
Howe doesn’t think that scenario makes any sense.
Asks Howe, “Why would an illegal alien want to go to vote and draw attention to himself?”
Kobach begged the Legislature to give him this prosecutorial authority.
Now, what will he do with it?
If Kobach’s history is any guide, he will find an offender or two and make a huge deal out of it. This will give him the publicity he longs for.
And, of course, this will make Kobach more popular than ever.
To reach Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to email@example.com.