Local officials oppose election fraud bill

5/9/2013

Kobach would like to expand power to prosecute cases.

Kobach would like to expand power to prosecute cases.

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

Local lawmakers and prosecutors share concern over pending legislation that if passed, would give Secretary of State Kris Kobach the power to prosecute election fraud cases.

Different versions of the bill containing Kobach's proposal already have been approved by the House and Senate, and there is speculation the final bill will be passed by the Legislature by the end of this week.

State Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, said he is completely against it.

"I voted against it in committee. I voted against it every step along the way," Jennings said. "We have 105 county attorneys and an attorney general, and we don't need another prosecutor. I don't think that we need to continue to spread prosecutorial authority to every elected official in the state, or to every agency in the state, and that we have plenty of resources in place to investigate and prosecute voter fraud now ... We elect county attorneys because they are from the communities in which these prosecutions would occur, and I believe they have the best sense of what the expectations of those communities are and are far more accountable for their actions than state officials."

State Rep. John Doll, R-Garden City, said the current laws, as written, are more than sufficient to deal with voter fraud.

"I adamantly oppose expanding the powers of the department, where I see absolutely no need to do such. We're all concerned with people voting who aren't registered and that sort of thing, but it hasn't been proved out. All there have been is accusations. There has not been any proof on a scale of any sort of it actually happening," Doll said. "I think we're trying to get into areas that we don't need to get into. I think it's been handled pretty well the last 150 years, and I think we need to continue the way it's been handled."

Part of Kobach's push in expanding his prosecutorial power is based on his belief that county prosecutors don't have the time or resources to handle election fraud cases."We just want to make sure that somebody with prosecutorial experience goes after these cases," Kobach told The Associated Press last week.

Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier said she doesn't believe that is the case.

State Rep. Larry Powell, R-Garden City, could not be reached for comment.

"There are busy times and slower times, and we work hard when we have to. I think if it was that bad, I probably would have heard about several cases in our county, and we probably would have dealt with it," she said. "I don't see how that would be any different than if we had a really big case come along. I just think it's something that when it happens, you have to ante up and deal with it. That's what we do every single day. Maybe some counties are different than we are, but I think any time you're presented with an influx of new cases, you just deal with it."

Kobach successfully pushed for legislation in 2011 requiring that all voters present photo IDs in order to vote. That law went into effect January 2012. Kobach also pushed for another law requiring that people registering to vote for the first time in Kansas provide proof of citizenship.

"If you don't have appropriate documentation, you can't vote here," Richmeier said. "If you are having to present documentation to vote, which in the state of Kansas you do, that should eliminate to a great extent the problem."

There are about 1.7 million registered voters in Kansas, and only a handful of cases involving reports of non-citizens voting or attempting to vote have been reported in the past 10 years.

One of Kobach's arguments is that there are many more cases out there that simply aren't being pursued.

Richmeier said she is unaware of any such cases occurring in Finney County, but doesn't have access to the data that Kobach does.

"It would seem that it would be blown out of proportion, but I'm not the one who's reviewing those cases that he's saying are there, so I can't comment as to what information he has that he thinks is important," Richmeier said.

Kobach is also seeking to investigate and prosecute double voting.

Former Finney County Attorney John Wheeler, who retired at the beginning of this year, said he handled only two cases in the past 10 years involving election fraud. The first was not prosecutable because the statute of limitations had expired. Most recently, in 2012, he handled a case involving double voting. In that particular case, the man received diversion for voting in Finney County and in another state. After looking at the man's lack of criminal history, motivation and all other factors, Wheeler said they allowed him diversion.

"I would imagine that upset the secretary of state, but I think it's the role of the prosecutor to weigh all of the factors ... Not to suggest that election fraud is not serious. It's just that you have to look at every case on its individual merits," Wheeler said. "I, as a longtime prosecutor, I have very strong feelings about this, that the power should be left in the place where they have the experience to prosecute such kinds of cases. This isn't a personal attack on Secretary Kobach. It's not a personal thing, but he's not always going to be secretary of state. It's an office thing and (the power) you hand to one person while they are in office may not be good for (their successor to have) because they will have different motivations. I think the Legislature regretfully appears to be going down a very sad road."

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