Issues often are exaggerated during political campaigns. That's certainly the case with voter fraud.
Republican Kris Kobach is making voter fraud a central part of his campaign for Kansas secretary of state. He contends that it is "a very real problem in Kansas," and he wants to take the lead in prosecuting violators. He also wants to require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.
"We must act immediately to protect the integrity of our elections," he wrote in an Eagle letter to the editor earlier this month.
But there is no evidence that fraud is a significant problem. In fact, records in the Secretary of State's Office show that June 2009, there had been only seven cases of alleged fraud referred to local, state or federal authorities in five years, and only one of those cases was prosecuted.
One case in five years.
"Voter fraud is not a major problem in this state," said current Secretary of State Chris Biggs. Former Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh agreed. So do the other candidates in this race.
"I'm not going to say there is a whole bunch of fraud when I don't have proof of it," said GOP candidate J.R. Claeys.
People can argue that even one case of fraud is too many. There also may be some fraud that officials don't know about. So it is important to be vigilant about protecting the voting system, enforcing laws and investigating reports of possible fraud — as all the candidates have pledged to do.
An ugly undercurrent of this debate is the allegation that illegal immigrants are voting. But there is no evidence this is occurring — nor does it make much sense. Why would an illegal immigrant, who is trying to keep a low profile, vote in an election? Why would he risk imprisonment for something that offers no personal gain, and when the odds are so slim that his vote would make a difference in an election?
A more probable concern about fraud — or at least about potential errors that might alter an election's outcome — is electronic voting. Some systems don't provide paper backups to document that a person's vote was accurately recorded and tabulated. That's a better issue for debate and possible reform.
All the GOP candidates support requiring voter identification in order to cast a vote. This is based more on fear and politics than any real problem. But as long as the state makes sure it doesn't disenfranchise people who are poor or old and don't have a driver's license or other official form of identification, it could be a reasonable requirement.
Though voter fraud is not a major problem, it is a serious issue. It shouldn't be exaggerated and exploited to try win an election.