Secretary of State Kris Kobach sought to persuade lawmakers to give him the power to prosecute voter fraud on Tuesday.
Voter fraud crimes now are prosecuted by local county and district attorneys.
Kobach’s Senate Bill 63 also would prosecute double voting as a felony instead of as a misdemeanor.
Kobach said the bill would take the burden off county attorneys, whom he said often have to put voter fraud cases aside because of more pressing matters, such as violent crimes.
“If you like the status quo where nothing happens, but the crime’s on the books, then absolutely don’t pass this bill,” he said during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “But if you want to see the agency who has authority in this area to do the investigating and actually have some cases where a felony is applied, then you should support this bill.”
Opponents such as Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe said the bill, and Kobach’s expansion of power, would be wasteful.
“Giving independent authority to the secretary of state to prosecute local crimes provides unnecessary overlap of duties and resources,” Howe said in his testimony.
Howe also argued that most cases of double voting occur when a person votes more than once unknowingly, such as an elderly person sending an advance ballot, forgetting about it and then voting at a polling place on election day.
“The vast majority of these cases don’t have the intent to commit crimes,” Howe said. “I don’t think it’s rampant.”
Former Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, provided neutral testimony during the hearing Tuesday, but urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to take a closer look at voter fraud statistics before moving forward with SB 63.
Mah said Kobach told her 41 incidents of election fraud were reported to his office in the 2010 general election. As of the 2012 general election, there are 1.77 million registered voters in Kansas.
“We had 787 ballots thrown out between the primary and general election for no voter ID,” Mah said. “If you guys want to work on a serious problem, maybe that’s it. But if you want to give the secretary prosecutorial powers, I don’t care. The people we’re after for double voting are snowbirds. If we think it’s a great idea to haul somebody’s silver-haired mother off to jail, go for it.”
Mah, who lost her House seat in November by 21 votes, was a strong critic of Kobach’s voter ID law passed in 2011.