A bill that would give the Kansas secretary of state power to prosecute voting crimes got a hearing Monday in a House Committee.
Senate Bill 63 won approval in the Senate 31-9 late last month.
“If voter fraud is to be taken seriously, we must change how we approach the enforcement of election crimes,” Secretary of State Kris Kobach said in written testimony. “Diversions are not a deterrent. There must be fines and there must be convictions.”
SB 63 focuses on the prosecution of cases of people who vote twice — in different districts or states — in the same election. The Kansas secretary of state’s office reported 11 cases of such voting in the 2010 election cycle.
Opponents of the bill question the need for it, saying the number of reported cases is low.
“Considering the limited tax dollars that we have and a lot of the crimes people are worried about, going after some grandmother who has dementia and accidentally sent in her absentee ballot then went to the polling place isn’t something we should be using taxpayer dollars on,” said Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita.
Kobach said that county and district attorneys might fail to prosecute voting fraud cases because of a lack of resources that causes them to prioritize crimes and prosecute more serious felonies.
Others say the secretary of state doesn’t need prosecutorial power when local entities already have that power.
“Crimes that are considered in this legislation are no different from all of the other crimes currently being prosecuted by our local county and district attorneys,” said Patrick Vogelsberg of the Kansas County & District Attorneys Association. “If the situation requires, the county or district attorney will request the advice and consultation of the attorney general on the crimes suggested by this legislation.”
The bill would create notable shifts in the severity of penalties for voting crimes, from misdemeanors to lower-level felonies for acts involving advance voting and or voting without qualification.
“Felony offenses are among the most serious offenses that can be committed,” said Rep. Russell Jennings, R-Lakin. “While they don’t always include persons being directly impacted, they are of an egregious nature sufficient to warrant the extinguishment of a number of rights. My initial inclination is going from a class C misdemeanor to a level seven, eight or nine felony is a bit of a big jump for a crime.”
The House Elections Committee expects to work on the bill late next week.