Politics & Government

Kansas House approves bill to increase secretary of state’s power

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach testifies during a meeting of a legislative study committee on election issues last year in Topeka. (Nov. 21, 2014)
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach testifies during a meeting of a legislative study committee on election issues last year in Topeka. (Nov. 21, 2014) File photo

TOPEKA — The state House gave final OK on Thursday to a bill giving Secretary of State Kris Kobach and his successors the authority to prosecute alleged election fraud in criminal court.

A day after the measure earned preliminary approval 63-57, lawmakers voted 67-55 on final action to send the bill to the governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 34 grants Kobach a power he has long sought, to bring cases against alleged illegal voters when local prosecutors don’t. The bill also would allow the attorney general to overrule a local prosecutor’s decision not to file criminal charges in election cases.

In addition, the bill clarifies and increases penalties for several varieties of election crime.

Before and during his tenure as secretary of state, Kobach has repeatedly said that Kansas elections are tainted by immigrants voting illegally. He was the driving force behind the state’s requirement that voters show state-issued photo identification at the polls and a companion measure requiring proof of citizenship – usually a birth certificate or passport – to register to vote.

Opponents of the bill, including Wichita Democratic Reps. Jim Ward and John Carmichael, questioned the need for and the motives behind the bill.

In floor debate, Ward called Kobach an “excessively partisan secretary of state” and noted Kobach operates a political action committee, favoring conservative Republicans, in elections where Kobach’s in charge of counting the votes. Carmichael contended that giving Kobach the power to prosecute would intimidate and suppress voters who are legally qualified but afraid of making a mistake and inadvertently committing a crime.

Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, argued during the floor debate that election crime “strikes at the core of our democratic government,” of “one person, one legal vote.”

He said any illegal votes dilute the voting power of legal voters, and the prosecution of voting crimes is too important to leave to local district and county attorneys.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

How they voted

Here’s how south-central Kansas lawmakers voted on SB 34, giving the secretary of state power to prosecute voting fraud cases. The bill gained final passage, 67-55.

All area Democrats voted no. All area Republicans voted yes except for Steven Becker of Buhler and Don Schroeder of Hesston, who voted no.

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