Editorials

Editorial: Kobach finally convicts an immigrant, but Kansas is paying a price

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, shook hands with Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday, June 8, 2015, after the signing of Senate Bill 34, a bill that grants persecuting power to the Secretary of State for cases of voter fraud.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, shook hands with Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday, June 8, 2015, after the signing of Senate Bill 34, a bill that grants persecuting power to the Secretary of State for cases of voter fraud. AP

Hand out the celebratory cigars.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach finally nabbed himself an immigrant.

Pardon if we don’t order the band to play. Kobach announced Wednesday that he’d achieved an elusive goal — catching an immigrant who voted illegally in a Kansas election.

Victor David Garcia Bebek of Wichita pleaded guilty to voter fraud. The Peruvian native’s voting record was uncovered after he registered to vote and it was discovered that he’d already voted three times in past elections. It’s a misdemeanor.

A cautionary note for those tempted to crow that the case confirms the nonsense about undocumented immigrants committing widespread voter fraud: Bebek was discovered after he gained U.S. citizenship this year. He was legally present in the country when he cast previous votes.

Of course, that doesn’t make what Bebek did acceptable. He deserves to pay a penalty. That will be unsupervised probation for up to three years and a $5,000 fine, Kobach’s office says.

This case must be weighed against the damage done by Kobach’s capers in chasing down errant voters.

The Republican secretary of state also pursued a 2011 change in Kansas election law that has landed the state in federal court. The law changed the documents required to register to vote, putting Kansas in conflict with federal law. In one lawsuit, the new regulations were termed a “needless bureaucratic maze.”

At least 18,000 people were kept from active voting status in Kansas as a result of the change in the law. Most simply didn’t have the newly required documents, such as a birth certificate or a passport, with them when they tried to register.

It took a federal judge to order that thousands of those Kansans should be allowed to vote in the November 2016 election.

Kobach is the only secretary of state with the power to prosecute voter fraud. He sought and gained that power to conduct his voter manhunts in 2015. He has little to show for his diligence.

The secretary of state’s nearly two years of work have netted a grand total of eight convictions for election law violations. The other seven people prosecuted by Kobach’s office were U.S.-born citizens found to have done things like voting in one state, moving to another and also voting there. That’s voter confusion, not intentional fraud.

Elsewhere, secretaries of state are content to concentrate on ensuring that the voting rolls are up to date and that people are eligible when they register. Some even encourage citizens to vote.

Kobach discourages voting by sowing confusion and throwing up unnecessary hurdles for people trying to register. That undermines democracy.

By continuing to push the falsehood that voter fraud is rampant, Kobach spurs distrust in our voting processes. People shy away from systems they think are flawed, falsely believing that their vote doesn’t count.

The vast majority of issues framed as voter fraud are not intentional acts to deceive. Often, the discrepancy involves typographical errors in voter rolls, such as mistakes in addresses, transposed names and numbers, or confusion by voters.

But hey, Kobach finally found a single immigrant he could convict of a voting-related crime. Hold the applause, please.

  Comments