Politics & Government

Secretary of State Kris Kobach to begin prosecuting voter fraud cases in September

Secretary of State Kris Kobach speaks to a group of Leavenworth County Republicans on Monday.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach speaks to a group of Leavenworth County Republicans on Monday. The Wichita Eagle

TOPEKA – Secretary of State Kris Kobach says he will begin prosecuting cases of voter fraud next month and one of the cases will likely be from Sedgwick County.

Kobach said that his office has not made a decision on the number of cases, but said that it is primarily focused on cases of double voting from the 2010 election. His office is aiming for mid-September to begin filing charges.

“There’s a five-year statute of limitations, so if elements of the crime were committed in 2010 and we hit that same date in 2015, then we’re timed out,” Kobach said. “Because these cases weren’t prosecuted right after the crimes happened – which they should’ve been – we’re looking right now at cases from 2010 to make sure we can get a few of them filed before they’re all gone.”

Kobach successfully pushed for the power to prosecute election crimes during this past legislative session and that power went into effect July 1. He is only secretary of state in the nation with such a power – as far as he knows.

His claims about the frequency of voter fraud in the state have repeatedly been questioned – including by U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom – and many Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern that he will pursue unnecessary prosecutions.

Kobach said that his office had previously referred some of the cases his office is now pursuing to county attorneys, but they did not file charges.

“I think county attorneys had other things on their table and those other things were more important in their mind, I guess,” Kobach said.

Double voting refers to when a person casts a ballot in more than jurisdiction, either a different county or state, in the same election. Kobach said his office has been working with other states to get documents to support the claims of double voting.

He did not go into details, but he said a prosecution in Sedgwick County is likely.

“We do have cases coming out of Sedgwick County, and it’s likely that we will be filing at least one case in Sedgwick County,” Kobach said.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said he was only aware of two cases of voter fraud in the county, both of which occurred before Bennett took office in 2013.

One was a case of a non-citizen voting, which the county did prosecute, and the other was a man who had voted in elections in both Kansas and Louisiana. The county investigated the second case, but ultimately referred it to Louisiana.

“His permanent residence was here. This is where he paid his taxes, owned property,” Bennett said.

“We did not prosecute it here because he did live here. The double voting, if it occurred, occurred in Louisiana. That was our assessment.”

Bennett emphasized that both of the cases were handled under his predecessor. Bennett said that Kobach has referred no cases to the Sedgwick County DA’s office for prosecution for as long as he’s been in office.

Bennett opposed granting the secretary of state prosecutorial power, but said that his office will cooperate with Kobach’s office on cases if asked to do so. He emphasized the importance of being judicious in the exercise of that power.

“Prosecutorial power is profound … and the people who hold it should be held to a very high standard,” Bennett said. “I just think it’s a policy thing that is bigger than any individual, and I just think before we start handing out prosecutorial power we make sure we understand the consequences.”

Kobach will speak at the Sedgwick County Republican Party picnic on Saturday at Beech Lake, which begins at 11:30 a.m. He will discuss the upcoming prosecutions and the status of the conservative movement in Kansas.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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