Kansas is unique among U.S. states in recently granting its top elections official the power to prosecute alleged voting irregularities himself, and Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach is looking to move a contentious national debate past tough voter identification laws. Kobach’s office earlier this month filed three election fraud cases in two counties, accusing the defendants of illegally voting in Kansas while casting ballots in the same elections in other states. The law allowing his office to do so — instead of forwarding evidence to prosecutors — took effect in July, and Kobach has promised to pursue more cases in the next two months. It’s not yet clear whether other states will follow Kansas’ example, though Alabama’s secretary of state broached the subject with top lawmakers in his state earlier this year. The Republican-dominated Kansas Legislature, which heeded Kobach’s call to give the state some of the nation’s toughest voter identification laws, took four years to expand the power of his office.
“We’ve made an important innovation in Kansas, and it’s one that would help other states as well,” Kobach said, adding that he’s “happy to help” other states pursue similar laws. A conservative former law professor, Kobach first won his office in 2010 by portraying election fraud as a major problem. Kansas started requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls in 2012, and since 2013, new voters have been required to prove their U.S. citizenship when registering.
Kobach argues that the policies he’s championed give Kansas the most secure elections in the nation. Testifying before a legislative committee earlier this year, Kobach said his office identified 18 cases in which a person voted in Kansas and another state in the same elections in 2010 or 2012; only seven were prosecuted. In 2011, he told legislators there had been 59 reported cases of potential election fraud since 1997, affecting more than 200 ballots.
None of the three cases Kobach filed — or any he cited earlier this year — involved someone impersonating a voter or a non-citizen attempting to vote. Nor did most of the cases cited in his 2011 report.