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Waiting for evidence

  • Published Wednesday, March 2, 2011, at 12:05 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, March 2, 2011, at 5:54 a.m.

Having persuaded 83 members of the Kansas House last week that the state has a serious problem with fraudulent voters, Secretary of State Kris Kobach now moves his crusade to the Senate. Before the Senate joins the House in requiring a photo ID to vote and proof of citizenship to register for the first time, senators at least should demand better evidence of voter fraud than Kobach has turned up so far.

As a candidate last fall, Kobach cited the case of someone who had died in 1996 yet voted in August. But The Eagle found the Wichitan to be very much alive (“I don’t think this is heaven, not when I’m raking leaves,” the man said).

Then to sell House Bill 2067, Kobach gave House lawmakers a list of “Known Reported Incidents of Election Crimes, 1997-2010.”

But as described in Tuesday’s Eagle, the local incidents look more like honest mistakes than voter fraud — ballot applications signed by well-meaning relatives, mail-in ballots with signatures that didn’t match those on file, a parent trying to vote for a student off at college — and, in the end, the ballots went uncounted. One case that Kobach’s list termed “election bribery” isn’t a crime (paying someone in 2006 to transport voters to the polls).

Even what sounds like a serious case lacked any intent to defraud — a noncitizen who voted in a Wichita primary election in 2009, was charged and has been placed in a misdemeanor diversion program. According to Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston, when the woman went to a driver’s license bureau to get the kind of temporary license the state issues to documented foreign nationals, she was asked whether she also wanted to register to vote. “She felt that she was doing what she was supposed to do,” Foulston told The Eagle editorial board.

Because of the sketchy details and unknown outcome of an inquiry by the Department of Homeland Security, it’s also hard to know what to make of the other Sedgwick County case of voter fraud cited by Kobach — a confused noncitizen who turned in a voting record with her application for citizenship, apparently trying to show her level of civic engagement.

Foulston said her office has a good relationship with Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Bill Gale and reviews each case related to elections to determine whether there’s a chargeable offense. “Whether I’m a Democrat or a Republican or a Federalist, it certainly doesn’t matter. We handle the cases as we’re supposed to,” said Foulston (a Democrat), who also questions why Kobach needs the authority to prosecute voter fraud included in the legislation.

The newly empowered GOP majority in Topeka, including Gov. Sam Brownback, have shown enthusiasm for Kobach’s bill, which also increases penalties for election crimes. Warnings from the Kansas NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Kansas and other opponents that it will end sidewalk registration drives, disenfranchise eligible voters and suppress turnout have changed few Republicans’ minds.

Maybe a voter ID law really will do Kansas more good than harm. But if the “election crimes” are as variously rare and groundless statewide as those listed for Sedgwick County, Kobach’s document should give senators pause.

Saying voter fraud is rampant doesn’t make it so.

— For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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