Views from Kansas: Spines regrow as Kobach exits

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Now that Kris Kobach is on his way out, Kansas officials have rediscovered their backbones.

Recently, Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced his intention to take back the authority to prosecute cases of voter fraud from that of the secretary of state.

In 2015, both houses of the Kansas Legislature voted to make Kobach the only secretary of state in the country to have the power to file criminal charges against voter fraud as well as stiffen penalties for several voting offenses from misdemeanors to felonies.

In the years since, Kobach has not been able to prove more than a few cases of voter fraud with little more than slaps on the hand as follow-up. One wonders why Schmidt has changed course weeks after Kobach lost his bid to be governor. Did Schmidt realize that voter fraud isn’t a real issue? Or perhaps he simply went along with Kobach, wary of angering a future governor. What else could account for his sudden change of conviction now that Kobach is on his way out the door?

Though he voted as a state representative to give Kobach such prosecutorial powers, Scott Schwab, incoming secretary of state, also says he’s changed his mind about the wisdom of that move and is more than happy to hand them back over to those more experienced in such matters.

Which is as it should be.

Of the almost 2 million registered voters in Kansas, only a dozen have been found to be registered improperly, mostly due to clerical errors or recent changes of address, not intentional fraud. Kobach has brushed off the defeats as inconsequential because his focus all along has been on gaining national attention as a voting fraud czar. He is a king of fear-mongering, wanting us to feel our rights as citizens are being threatened by outside forces, even though the truth is otherwise.

In 2013, a good number of legislators approved Kobach’s efforts to make voting more restrictive by requiring voters prove their U.S. citizenship. In the 2016 election, an estimated 35,000 Kansans were prevented from registering to vote because of the new law, the strictest in the nation. The law was ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Julie A. Robinson last June.

Attorney General Schmidt has agreed to appeal Judge Robinson’s ruling, which should cause Kansans to question why he still believes in spending his office’s time and our tax dollars on Kobach’s solution in search of a problem.

Schmidt could ease our consciences by not only saying that upon review the case is without merit, but also by making the break between his and Kobach’s policies crystal clear. Until then, doubts can’t help but persist as to what side of the fence Schmidt sits.

— Originally published in The Iola Register


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