Politics & Government

Officials say only two cases of voter fraud in Sedgwick County

Sedgwick County election officials say they know of only two cases locally of people who weren't eligible to vote casting a ballot.

Most of the alleged voting fraud and irregularities in Sedgwick County that Secretary of State Kris Kobach has reported to state legislators were either groundless or they were honest mistakes by voters and their families, according to county officials.

Kobach is asking the Legislature to require all voters to show government-issued photo identification when voting to prevent fraud and voting by noncitizens.

In one of the two cases in Sedgwick County, a noncitizen who voted in a city primary election has been placed in a misdemeanor diversion program that will likely lead to the charge being dismissed. Another noncitizen who voted turned in her voting record with her application for citizenship, apparently thinking it would help show what a good citizen she would be. The outcome of that case is unknown.

Kobach said that when he presented the report on voter fraud to the House Elections Committee, he tried to make it clear that it was a summary of complaints, not actual violations, and that a bill he's proposing to address voter fraud would also help prevent innocent mistakes.

The allegations were part of a sheaf of complaints that Kobach presented to the House Elections Committee under the heading "Known Reported Incidents of Election Crimes, 1997-2010."

Kobach presented the list as part of the backup material to House Bill 2067, legislation he proposed that would require all voters to produce government picture identification to vote.

The measure would also require new voters to prove U.S. citizenship when they register, by providing birth certificates, passports and/or other documents such as marriage licenses.

The House passed the bill by an 83-to-36 vote Friday, and it now goes to the Senate.

Kobach acknowledged that several of the complaints in Sedgwick County did not indicate voter fraud. Other allegations that he cited, such as disruption at polling places, aren't addressed by his bill.

But he said that when it comes to noncitizens voting, "it doesn't matter that much to me if people did it out of ignorance or maliciousness, it's still canceling out the vote of a U.S. citizen.

"Even if it's a mistake, it's still not victimless."

Cases investigated

Four of the cases Kobach cited were related incidents involving a single polling place — Holy Cross Lutheran Church — in the 2006 election in which Democrat Raj Goyle unseated incumbent Rep. Bonnie Huy, R-Wichita.

Those allegations were detailed in a Republican Party complaint filed after the election. All were investigated, and District Attorney Nola Foulston found that no crimes had been committed. Foulston is a Democrat.

Discounted ballots

Kobach also cited multiple cases of "ballot applications signed by a parent, spouse or relative," which he characterized as "perjury, impersonation of a voter." In addition, he cited a case of a "non-matching signature on an advance ballot."

Those cases all resulted in the questioned ballots not being counted, Kobach's report said.

Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Bill Gale said such cases crop up in almost every election and that many involve family members seeking to assist elderly and infirm relatives, or spouses accidentally mixing up their ballots at home.

"More often what happens is it's not even signed at all or a spouse signed it in error," Gale said.

He said he has seen no cases that he would consider to be attempted fraud or impersonation.

Gale said another common problem is that some elderly voters send in mail ballots and then forget, and show up to vote at the polls on election day. He said they are allowed to cast provisional ballots, which are checked against the mailed ballots and rejected if the voter voted twice.

Gale said he had no knowledge about an allegation listed by Kobach that a "parent voted for college student by power of attorney." Kobach's report said the provisional ballot was not counted.

"I couldn't figure out that one," Gale said.

Gale said he also was puzzled by a complaint on Kobach's list that in 2006, a "candidate paid $50 to $75 to deliver 20 votes each," which he characterized as "election bribery." Gale said paying people to bring voters to the polls is not illegal.

Brad Bryant, assistant deputy secretary of state, said that complaint came directly to the state office.

He said a woman and her lawyer reported to him and then-Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh that a candidate was paying people to bring in votes in 2006. The woman later said she suspected that money had been given to actual voters, although no proof was provided, he said.

Bryant would not identify the candidate or the race.

He agreed with Gale that it is legal to pay people to round up voters and bring them to the polls, as long as the voters themselves don't get paid.

Noncitizen ballots

There were two cases cited by Kobach of noncitizens casting ballots.

In 2010, the report said, a non-U.S. citizen voted in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008.

Gale said that case involved a call he got from the Department of Homeland Security about a woman who was applying for citizenship.

"Apparently she had brought in something she had gotten from us with her voting history," Gale said. "Apparently, she thought it was something that would help her achieve U.S. citizenship."

He said the woman's actions indicated it was a case of confusion, not intent to commit a crime.

Gale said he didn't know the final outcome, but said "he (the Homeland Security agent) mentioned it was a deportable offense."

Of the cases cited by Kobach, only one resulted in local prosecution, said Georgia Cole, spokeswoman for Foulston.

Gale said that case arose when the Secretary of State's Office checked the voter registration roll against the list of temporary driver's licenses, which are issued to noncitizens so they can drive while they're in the country.

That sweep resulted in eight matches, but only one had actually cast a ballot — in the 2009 Wichita municipal primary, Gale said.

Cole said the woman, who is from the Philippines, was charged with a misdemeanor and recently entered a diversion program. The charge will be dismissed if the woman stays out of trouble for 12 months, she said.

Kobach said he knows of no organized fraud in the Wichita area. However, he said there was a case in Kansas City, Mo., where a man was alleged to have registered and coached about 50 Somali nationals to vote for a Democratic primary candidate who won by one vote.

He said the cases that resulted from the driver's license match addressed only those legal immigrants who had chosen to get a license. He said there are potentially many more instances involving noncitizen immigrants, both legal and illegal.

Kobach also said that some smugglers of illegal immigrants register them to vote using fictitious names, as part of a scam to convince them they're getting useful identification documents.

Requiring proof of citizenship of new voters won't clear the rolls of fake names, but it will prevent the problem from getting worse, Kobach said.

He said it's similar to having fictional voters wind up on the rolls because workers in registration drives turn in cards with fake names to get more money.

"The problem is every one of those names is a platform to commit voter fraud," he said.