Secretary of State Kris Kobach would have new powers to prosecute election crimes under legislation given initial approval Wednesday in a razor-thin House vote. The House gave an early OK to Senate Bill 34 in a 63-57 vote. If the House now approves the bill in a final vote it will go to Gov. Sam Brownback. But the outcome of the final vote — which requires 63 votes — seems far from certain. Multiple Democrats voted in favor of the bill in a failed effort to use a procedural maneuver to later kill the bill. At least two Republicans who would likely vote in favor of the bill were absent. Kobach has sought the power to prosecute for some time. He fought his re-election campaign against Democrat Jean Schodorf portraying himself as tough on voter fraud. The bill also would upgrade penalties for several voting offenses to felonies from misdemeanors.
… Debate on the House floor centered on a series of amendments that would have stripped out provisions of the bill opponents found objectionable. The bill’s leading proponent, Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, successfully urged lawmakers to reject the amendments.
… The closest lawmakers came to amending the bill came in a change offered by Rep. Russell Jennings, R-Lakin, that would have stripped away prosecutorial power for the secretary of state from the bill, which also boosts penalties for election crimes. The amendment failed in a 60-61 vote.
Jennings said having three entities — county attorneys, the attorney general and the secretary of state — going after election crimes could lead to confusion. “It creates a scenario where you could have a race to the courthouse. And whoever files first gets to prosecute. And there’s only of the three in this conversation that really wants to get to prosecute, and I really want him to file papers and keep good records, not prosecute,” Jennings said.