Kobach sees filing election cases soon under new Kansas law

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, shakes hands with Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday, June 8, 2015, at the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., after the signing of Senate Bill 34, a bill that grants prosecuting power to the Secretary of State for cases of voter fraud. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

? Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Monday that three attorneys in his office will be working on potential election fraud cases at least part-time and he is likely to handle some cases now that his office will have the legal authority to prosecute them.

The state’s top elections official looked on as Gov. Sam Brownback signed two bills changing state elections laws, including a measure that gives Kobach’s office and the attorney general’s office the power to prosecute election fraud cases. Both new laws take effect July 1.

Election fraud was the centerpiece of Kobach’s first successful campaign for secretary of state in 2010, and he’s sought prosecutorial authority ever since.

Kobach said during the bill-signing ceremony that his office has identified more than 100 potential cases from last year’s elections in which people who cast ballots in other states appear to also have done so illegally in Kansas. He said three attorneys will add such cases to their existing duties and he expects his office to start filing cases later this year.

Asked whether he would appear in court himself, the attorney and former law professor said, “I think it’s likely that I will get involved personally.”

Kobach, a conservative Republican, has pushed nationally for voter ID laws. Kansas requires voters to show photo identification at the polls and provide proof of their U.S. citizenship when registering to vote for the first time. Kansas has both policies, and between 28,000 and 29,000 of its registrations remain on hold because the prospective voters haven’t yet complied with the proof-of-citizenship rule.

The secretary of state contends Kansas now has the nation’s strongest laws against election fraud. He’s argued county prosecutors have enough other cases — particularly violent crimes — that keep them from making election fraud a priority.

But Kobach’s critics argue that his efforts suppress voter turnout.

State Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, and attorney, said Kobach is too partisan to be trusted with prosecutorial power and has an incentive to attempt to back up overstated claims about the prevalence of election problems.

“My concern is that the secretary may commence prosecutions against individuals in an attempt to get his numbers up — prosecutions of folks who professional prosecutors would have never considered charging,” Carmichael said.

The other bill signed by Brownback moves city and local school board elections from the spring to the fall of odd-numbered years.

Supporters contend the change will increase turnout. But many local officials strongly opposed the change, seeing it as disruptive. Also, critics said, allowing balloting by mail for such contests would do far more to boost turnout than changing the election schedule.