Kansas Senate advances bill giving Kobach power to prosecute election crimes

? The Kansas Senate on Tuesday advanced a bill that would give the secretary of state authority to prosecute election crimes.

Senate Bill 34 would also amend current election law by establishing new crimes of attempting to vote more than once in an election, and it increases the severity of some other election crimes.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, has asked for prosecutorial powers in the past, but previous Legislatures have not been willing to go along. Currently, election crimes can be prosecuted by the county or district attorney in the county where the alleged crime took place or by the Kansas attorney general.

Under Kansas law, the Secretary of State is the chief election officer of the state. Democrats argued there was no need to give that power to the secretary of state because Kansas does not give similar power to county clerks or county election commissioners, who are the local election officers.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, noted that most secretaries of state in modern history have not been attorneys. Only the two most recent secretaries, incumbent Kobach and his predecessor, Democrat Chris Biggs, have been attorneys.

He questioned how the power would be exercised in the future if Kansans elect someone to that office who is not an attorney.

But Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said prosecutions could be handled by attorneys within the secretary of state’s office. He noted that a number of other state agencies, including the Insurance commissioner’s office, have prosecutorial powers now, even though they are not necessarily led by attorneys.

He also noted that Kansas law doesn’t specifically require that the attorney general be an attorney.