Kansas attorney general says he will prosecute election law violations in Douglas County, despite opposition from local DA

photo by: John Hanna/Associated Press

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, pictured at a news conference on Feb. 23, 2021, at the Statehouse, is throwing his hat into the governor's race. Behind him are Senate President Ty Masterson, left, R-Andover, and House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., right, R-Olathe.

UPDATED 1:50 P.M. AUG. 2, 2021

If Douglas County’s district attorney won’t prosecute violations of the state’s new election integrity law, the Kansas attorney general wants everyone to know that he will.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt distributed a statement Monday — the day before city commission and school board primary election day — assuring residents that election law violations would be prosecuted by his office, even though Douglas County’s district attorney last month said she wouldn’t be prosecuting offenses under the new law.

“Citizens throughout our state deserve assurance that state election-integrity laws will be enforced and election crimes, like all other crimes, will be prosecuted when warranted by the evidence,” Schmidt said via a press release.

As reported, Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez late last month announced that her office would not prosecute cases under the new election integrity law that was enacted this past spring by the Kansas Legislature. She said the new law had a “chilling effect” on the work to inform and register voters.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Valdez said in her news release last week. “This law criminalizes essential efforts by trusted nonpartisan groups like the League of Women Voters to engage Kansans on participation in accessible, accountable and fair elections. It is too vague and too broad and threatens to create felons out of dedicated defenders of democracy.”

Valdez is a Democrat, who was elected to her first term as district attorney last November. Schmidt is a Republican, who has announced will run for governor next year.

One of the provisions of the new law makes it a crime to engage in activity that “gives the appearance of being an election official.” Valdez has said the law uses terms that are too subjective and are based too much on perception. Reportedly, voting rights groups like the League of Women Voters had suspended their voting registration efforts as they challenge the law in court.

In his Monday press release, Schmidt noted that the law is facing legal challenges, but he also noted that no court has found the new law invalid or has issued an injunction blocking its enforcement.

“The law of the state of Kansas is in effect statewide, including in Douglas County, so any law enforcement agencies that obtain evidence of election crimes may present the results of an investigation to our office for review, and we will make a prosecution decision based on the facts and law applicable to any individual case.”

However, it is still uncertain how likely it will be that cases from Douglas County will be prosecuted. Schmidt’s statement said that people who suspect a violation of the new voter law should contact a local law enforcement agency, such as the Lawrence Police Department or the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. Schmidt’s statement indicated that his office wouldn’t consider prosecution until a law enforcement agency has completed an investigation and forwarded those results to the Kansas Attorney General’s office. How often local law enforcement agencies receive any such complaints is unknown, and it also is uncertain whether those agencies now will start forwarding the results of such investigations to Schmidt’s office, or follow the more traditional route of forwarding them to the local district attorney.

Late Monday afternoon, Valdez issued her own statement and took exception to Schmidt’s position on the issue.

“This undermining of my local authority is a disturbing example of overreach, attempted intimidation and partisan bluster,” Valdez said in a written statement. “As I have already stated, House Bill 2183 is too vague and too broad and seeks to ‘fix’ an already secure and thriving election system. The attorney general’s statement is a threat to those who educate the electorate and assist some of our most vulnerable citizens in exercising their right to vote. In his efforts to pander to a certain segment, Attorney General Schmidt continues to perpetuate a lie that he fostered in his failed efforts to subvert democracy in the 2020 presidential election. But in Douglas County, we follow the Constitution.”


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