Editorials

Brace yourself for Kobach

Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, is a zealot on the nonissue of voter fraud.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, is a zealot on the nonissue of voter fraud. AP

Secretary of State Kris Kobach finally got the prosecutorial powers he wanted. Brace yourself, Kansas voters, as he’s unlikely to put them in a drawer.

Kobach is such a zealot on the nonissue of voter fraud that he didn’t even wait to start investigations until Gov. Sam Brownback had signed the bill, which occurred Monday. Kobach said three attorneys in his office will work on potential cases at least part time, and he likely will handle some as well. He claimed he’s homing in on more than 100 possible cases of double voting from 2014, using phrases Monday such as “all-time high” and “slam dunk.”

The more accurate wording about Kobach’s expanded power came from Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, who called it “jousting at windmills.”

One problem is that it’s “unnecessary and redundant” to give the Secretary of State’s Office this power, as the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association’s testimony put it. The other is that where local prosecutors view showing criminal intent as necessary in such prosecutions, Kobach may not. And especially given the aggressive partisanship he has exhibited as the state’s top election official, it’s fair to wonder whether he’d be nonpartisan in picking and choosing voters to prosecute.

As the League of Women Voters of Kansas has observed, the new law also makes it a nonperson felony to “knowingly” vote or attempt to vote without being qualified “in any election district when not a lawfully registered voter in such election district.”

About 30,000 Kansans are on the list of people who’ve tried to register to vote but haven’t yet complied with the Kobach-pushed law requiring proof of citizenship to complete their registrations. And it’s not hard to imagine some of them, confused about their status, showing up to vote and finding themselves in Kobach’s net.

As Carole Neal, a Wichitan and co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, said in May: “It is possible that those Kansans, as well as those who mistakenly show up at the wrong polling place, could now be prosecuted for the felony of ‘knowingly’ attempting to vote without proper registration.”

In signing the bill Monday, Brownback mentioned that Kobach had campaigned and won re-election on his desire to prosecute voter fraud himself. “The people of Kansas looked at it, and they want to make sure you don’t have voter fraud,” Brownback said.

But if Kobach abuses his new authority, the fault won’t be his own alone, but also that of the lawmakers and governor who were persuaded to trust Kobach with it.

In a year in which the Legislature and governor have had so much trouble handling their most fundamental responsibility – passing a balanced state budget – the Kobach bill stands out as optional lawmaking that may make matters worse.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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