What’s wrong with elections in Kansas is pretty obvious and basic – the 25,000 voter registrations in limbo over the proof-of-citizenship requirement and the room for growth in rolls and turnout. Yet the state’s top elections official is busy pushing fixes for nonproblems.
What else is new?
What Secretary of State Kris Kobach wants:
▪ To revive a straight-party option for voters, which would let them use one mark to select every Republican, Democrat or Libertarian on a general election ballot “to help speed up the process of voting,” he said at a House hearing on the bill last week.
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▪ To make death the only reason a candidate’s name can be removed from a general election ballot, and then only before a Sept. 1 deadline, and to require that the political party name a replacement candidate. The bill is his overreaction to the bizarre situation last fall when the Democrat running for U.S. Senate dropped out and Kobach unsuccessfully fought in court to keep him on the ballot and to require the Kansas Democratic Party to replace him. And it fails to account for the reality that sometimes things happen – short of death – that would prevent candidates from serving if elected. Why not let them withdraw if time allows?
▪ To be empowered to prosecute election fraud cases with a bill that he calls “the final piece in the puzzle in terms of preventing voter fraud.” But there continues to be no evidence that double voting or other fraud is so common as to justify giving Kansas’ secretary of state prosecutorial powers, especially with county and federal prosecutors already able to pursue such cases. As Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe told senators Thursday, testifying on behalf of the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association, expanding the secretary of state’s duties to include prosecution is “bad public policy” as well as redundant and wasteful.
Howe later told The Eagle editorial board that “you would have to show criminal intent in prosecuting these cases. It is an important factor in our decisions.”
Could Kobach be trusted to exercise such discretion? Or would he bring the full force of his new power down on the forgetful or confused few who make honest mistakes?
The least objectionable of the proposals may be the straight-party ballot, because it would be a convenient option for some voters and could be overridden in specific races. But again, given Kobach’s unchecked partisanship as secretary of state, who thinks his motivation is apolitical? The same suspicion applies to his support for bundling the low-turnout spring contests for municipal and school board seats, which are now nonpartisan, with fall partisan elections.
Especially with the state’s budget problems so big and urgent, Kobach’s agenda is unworthy of the 2015 Legislature’s time. Lawmakers should tell him to get back to them when he has something to offer that would get more Kansans through his proof-of-citizenship roadblock and to the polls.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman