Kansas City, Kan. — Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach said Thursday that he expects to take important steps toward combatting potential election fraud in Kansas within a week of assuming office and will move quickly because he has a mandate from voters.
Kobach, a Kansas City-area law professor and former Kansas Republican Party chairman, said during an Associated Press interview that he plans to have a bill for legislators drafted by Jan. 1 to require voters to show photo ID at the polls. It also will require people to provide proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate, when registering to vote for the first time in a given county.
He also said he expects to designate one or two employees of the secretary of state's office to investigate allegations of election fraud within a week of taking office Jan. 10. He said he'll create a new page and link for the office's website to give people a place to report election irregularities.
Kobach's relatively easy victory over Secretary of State Chris Biggs left the incumbent's fellow Democrats and even some Republicans wondering how Kobach will run the office. And Kobach's critics worry about the nationally known work he plans to carry on — in his spare time, he said — advising cities and states about cracking down on illegal immigration.
But Kobach said initiatives for combatting election fraud will be his focus, and he wants to give Kansas the strongest election security laws in the nation.
During the campaign, opponents often questioned his statements regarding some three dozen reports sent to the secretary of state's office. Kobach has said the reports of potential election irregularities in the past 12 years were signs of a bigger problem.
"Hopefully, it will be a model for other states, too, because voter fraud's not just a problem in Kansas," he said. "I view my election as a mandate on this issue."
Kobach, from the Kansas City-area community of Piper, received 59 percent of the vote in this week's election. Biggs, from Junction City, received 37 percent, with Libertarian and Reform Party candidates splitting the rest.
The incoming secretary of state is most-known nationally for having helped draft Arizona's new law on illegal immigration. He was working Thursday on legal briefs for an appeal of a federal court ruling against a Farmers Branch, Texas, immigration ordinance, taking a break for the AP interview at a burger place in the Legends shopping district in Kansas City, Kan., a few minutes from his home.
"There's some things, certainly, in his background that suggest there may be another agenda there," said Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat. "I don't think anybody wants to see that office run in a very partisan way, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat. It's never been run that way."
Kobach said he plans to bring only a few of his supporters with him into the office, leaving most of its staff in place. A few employees may get some new duties when it begins investigating election fraud allegations, he said.
"I definitely will have a very full plate in securing Kansas elections," he said.
Kobach said his proposed legislation also will increase the penalties for some election crimes, such as double voting, and allow both state and local officials to prosecute cases. He said the photo ID provisions will be modeled on an Indiana law that has survived legal challenges in both state and federal courts.
Critics argue such proposals suppress voter turnout without doing much to combat fraud. Kobach strongly disagrees and believes legislators will pass his proposals, which also have the support of Gov.-elect Sam Brownback, another Republican.
"The implementation is going to be a long, drawn-out process because we've got 105 counties which are going to need to implement this thing consistently and well," Kobach said. "Even if this thing moved like a rocket through the Legislature, we're still talking about a minimum two-year process."
Meanwhile, skeptics will be watching how Kobach spends his time. Kobach has promised repeatedly that he'll do immigration work on his spare time. He said Thursday that he'll also help Kansas legislators who want to draft immigration legislation — if they seek his advice.
"I'm not going to be driving it," he said. "I'm not going to be the initiator or, you know, the catalyst for this stuff."