KU Statehouse Wire Service
TOPEKA – Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach expressed Thursday in a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting that hefty fines for voting crime imposed by Senate Bill 34 would greatly deter violators. The bill would also give the state office the authority to prosecute such crimes instead of the county attorneys.
Kobach said voting crimes prosecutions fall to the wayside because county attorneys are overworked, especially in smaller counties, and devote their attention to other serious cases such as arson, property crimes and rape.
“We set the standard for the country in what we do to stop election crimes, however, there are some election crimes you cannot stop by photo ID or proof of citizenship,” Kobach said. “The only way to stop them is to deter them and the only way to deter them is to impose big penalties and that’s what this bill is about and making sure the case is actually being prosecuted which in most instances isn’t happening right now.”
In the 2014 election, approximately 125,000 people were registered in both Kansas and a neighboring state, increasing the likelihood of double voting, or voting in two jurisdictions, Kobach said.
He said double voting is the most common form of voter fraud occurring in Kansas today even after securing the system with voter ID and proof of citizenship. He did not provide the number of violations that occurred in the 2014 election, however, he said 18 cases occurred in the 2010-2012 session of which only seven resulted in legal action.
Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said the bill could potentially penalize individuals who make mistakes unintentionally during the voting process.
“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 having moved to a nearby neighborhood, rather than a willful attempt to subvert an election, but if they occur, should be taken seriously,” Kubic said in his written testimony.
Stephen Howe, Johnson County District Attorney, agrees with the high fines but disagrees with the diversion of prosecuting authority. He said the bill would create the need for separate investigatory and prosecutorial personnel within the Secretary of State’s office.
“This increase and devotion of resources appears again, to be unnecessary and wasteful given there are already officials more appropriately positioned and resourced to deal with such matters,” Howe said in written testimony.
According to the bill’s fiscal note, the Secretary of State indicates SB 34 would cost approximately $15,000 in 2016 and $10,000 in 2017 for trial preparations and travel expenses.
Currently, no other state grants voter fraud prosecuting power to a Secretary of State.
The bill will likely appear on the agenda of the Judiciary Committee sometime next week.
Amelia Arvesen is a University of Kansas senior from San Ramon, Calif., majoring in journalism.