The Kansas Senate took a needed step last week in voting to bar the secretary of state from having a political action committee, given that the current officeholder clearly can’t see the problem with the state’s chief election officer funding candidacies other than his own. Where the Senate went wrong was in adding investigation and prosecution of election crimes to the secretary of state’s duties.
The legislation to give the office prosecutorial powers was a 31-9 vote of confidence that Secretary of State Kris Kobach hasn’t earned. After two years in office, he has yet to demonstrate that Kansas has a problem with voter fraud so serious that the secretary of state as well as the attorney general and county and district attorneys need the power to fight it.
Kobach recently complained to state senators that of the 11 double-voting violations his office has referred for prosecution – “all slam dunks,” he claimed – only two had been adjudicated, and that both resulted in diversion.
But Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe, testifying on behalf of the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association, suggested that what Kobach sees as widespread voter fraud doesn’t hold up in local investigation. Howe spoke of a case of double voting by an elderly man showing “early stages of dementia,” and of another case in which a man with developmental disabilities allegedly voted twice.
“Are we supposed to prosecute that case?” Howe asked lawmakers. “I chose not to.”
Kansans have reasons to doubt that Kobach would make the same sound judgment, which is why the House shouldn’t go along with the prosecutorial powers in Senate Bill 63.
But House members should join senators in favoring the PAC ban for secretaries of state, which passed with bipartisan support including Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.
Kobach has claimed his government job is separate from his PAC, which spent $23,000 helping Republican candidates last year. But Kansans already saw them overlap in an outrageous conflict of interest last November – when Kobach, as the state’s chief elections official, tangled in court over whether to release provisional voters’ names to then-Rep. Ann Mah, who ended up losing by a few votes to a candidate supported by Kobach’s PAC.
Kobach also has said the ban would violate his First Amendment rights. But legislative action is only being pursued because of his failure to do his job with the same nonpartisanship exhibited by predecessors Ron Thornburgh, Bill Graves and others.
Kobach shouldn’t need the Legislature to tell him what he’s doing is inappropriate and likely to erode trust in the integrity of elections – something he’s so committed to protecting from voter fraud. If he can’t bear to put his official duties ahead of his partisan politicking, he’s in the wrong job.