Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Secretary of State Scott Schwab recommended Monday a House committee move to repeal a state law granting unique authority to the Kansas secretary of state's office to prosecute cases of alleged voter fraud.
The legal power not held by any other state's chief election officer was obtained in 2015 by Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who worked four years until the Republican-led Legislature yielded to his demand for the right to bring criminal charges. He argued reform was necessary because county attorneys ignored double-voting and other forms of election fraud. He also said illegal immigrants were distorting the democratic process in Kansas.
Schmidt said he supported House Bill 2042, which would strike from state law the secretary of state's independent authority to prosecute election crime. Under the pending legislation, the attorney general and county attorneys would be responsible for those cases.
He said creation of a fraud and abuse litigation division in the attorney general's office in 2016 and the Legislature's transfer of securities fraud cases to the attorney general in 2017 made taking on a small number of voter fraud cases feasible.
"I don't think the volume of cases is going to be very large," Schmidt told the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee.
Schwab, elected in November to replace Kobach as secretary of state, said during the campaign he had no interest in carrying Kobach's prosecution torch.
"Secretary Schwab is a businessman, not an attorney, and believes the limited legal resources of the office would be more appropriately applied to administering the constitutional duties of the office of secretary of state and ensuring Kansas elections continue to be safe and trustworthy," said Katie Koupal, a deputy assistant secretary of state.
Kobach and an attorney in his office, Eric Rucker, prosecuted approximately 15 cases during a four-year period. Rucker was recently appointed to a vacant seat in the Kansas Senate.
The Kansas County and District Attorneys Association and the Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union endorsed House Bill 2042 as well as a similar measure, House Bill 2018, that likewise would do away with the prosecution power obtained by Kobach.
Kim Parker, the prosecutor coordinator with the DA's association, said the organization objected to the 2015 legislation as a costly and unnecessary overlap of prosecution and investigation services.
"Today," she said, "we believe that this 2015 change in Kansas law has indeed resulted in unnecessary overlap."
Letitia Harmon, policy director with ACLU of Kansas, said the secretary of state's office, which she viewed as an administrative agency of state government, wasn't equipped to exercise power to prosecute cases. The ACLU and Kobach, who didn't appear at the House committee hearing, clashed frequently on election procedure and in court on voting rights lawsuits.
"Voting-related crimes are exceedingly, exceptionally rare — and even then are most often the result of mistakes like voting in one's old precinct after one has moved rather than a willful attempt to subvert an election," she said. "In those very rare circumstances where a wilful crime is committed, it should be treated as a real crime."
She said allegations of voting misconduct ought to be handled by county or district attorneys in the jurisdiction where the act purportedly occurred.