Topeka — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told legislators Monday that election fraud is far more widespread in the state than previously thought, but a critic of his bill on the subject sharpened her attacks over what she sees as its potential to suppress turnout among minorities.
Kobach released a report that his office has received 59 reports of alleged irregularities involving at least 221 ballots since 1997 — twice as many as documented by an internal report three years ago. And he suggested those reports represent perhaps only 10 percent of what’s actually occurred.
“It must be made clear that this report significantly understates the incidence of election fraud in Kansas,” the Republican Kobach told the House Elections Committee during its first hearing on his bill.
The measure would require voters to show photo identification at the polls, and people who register to vote for the first time in Kansas would have to provide proof of their citizenship. The bill also would increase penalties for election crimes and allow the secretary of state’s office to prosecute cases, along with the attorney general’s office and count prosecutors.
Opponents are scheduled to testify Wednesday.
Rep. Ann Mah, of Topeka, the committee’s ranking Democrat, wasn’t impressed with the new numbers from the Republican secretary of state, noting that millions of ballots have been cast since 1997. She suggested his bill would hinder voter registration drives and, after the meeting, said it would suppress many more legitimate votes than fraudulent ones.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s state chapter has criticized the measure, and Mah said it could hurt minority turnout, in particular. Mah, who is white, noted that all of the witnesses testifying for the bill Monday were white and said it has strong support among “nice, middle-class white folks” who don’t worry about suppressing turnout.
“Where are the people of color who support this bill?” she said after the hearing. “To those folks who know their votes are going to get thrown out, it’s a big deal.”
Kobach has repeatedly said his bill won’t suppress turnout and called Mah’s comments “outrageous.”
“Since when do Kansas legislators look at the skin color of people testifying?” he said.
Kobach, a Kansas City-area law professor on leave, already is a national figure for advising city officials and legislators in other states wanting to crack down on illegal immigration. He helped draft a law enacted in Arizona last year, empowering police to question anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.
He’s said he wants to give Kansas the toughest laws against election fraud in the nation. Eight states require a photo ID at the polls, and Oklahoma will begin doing so come July 1, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Kobach made combatting election fraud the key issue in his successful campaign for secretary of state last year, but he faces skepticism that it represents a widespread problem. His latest report was designed to dispel doubts.
The report includes instances in which six non-citizens cast ballots in 2008 or 2009, and Kobach noted that in 2009, the secretary of state’s office discovered that 54 non-citizens were registered to vote. Seward County reported a case of a non-citizen being registered this year, and canceled the registration.
“Although most of these individuals may never vote, the fraud already has occurred,” Seward County Clerk Stacia Long, a Republican, testified.
But Mah said even if Kobach is right and roughly 2,200 ballots cast in Kansas since 1997 were fraudulent, the figure still pales in comparison to the number of votes that won’t be cast or counted if, as she contends, his bill suppresses turnout. She noted that a 1 percent drop in turnout represents more than 8,000 votes in a general election in a non-presidential year.
“You tell me, which is worse?” she said. “The numbers just don’t even line up.”
Mah also said the requirement that people show proof of citizenship when registering for the first time would hinder the efforts of groups that set up registration tables at libraries, grocery stores and other locations, or candidates who register people as they campaign door-to-door.
Kobach acknowledged there will be some changes in how voter registration drives are conducted but doesn’t see the proof-of-citizenship requirement as burdensome. He noted that the bill provides for free non-driver’s ID cards and birth certificates for Kansans who are receiving social services or have low household incomes.