Kansas lawmakers are close to giving Secretary of State Kris Kobach new power he’s sought for his office to investigate and prosecute potential election fraud cases. The Republican secretary of state said Friday that he anticipates a bill expanding his office’s authority passing the GOP-dominated Legislature after its members reconvene next week to wrap up their business for the year. Kobach has sought the power since taking office in January 2011 but has met resistance in the past from Democrats and moderate Republicans. The House and Senate have approved different versions of a bill containing Kobach’s proposal, setting up negotiations over the final version. Legislators end their annual spring break Wednesday. “I’m optimistic that it will get done,” Kobach said.
The secretary of state is Kansas’ chief elections official but must refer cases of potential election irregularities to county and federal prosecutors if criminal charges are to be pursued. Even the state attorney general’s office must consult with local prosecutors on such cases.
Kobach said county prosecutors have too many other criminal cases to handle to pursue election fraud allegations aggressively, and the attorney general’s office also has “a very full plate.” He said the secretary of state’s office is most likely to pursue election fraud allegations aggressively and develop expertise in investigating them.
“We just want to make sure that somebody with prosecutorial experience goes after these cases,” Kobach said.
But Kobach, a GOP conservative, also has been a polarizing political figure. He is a former law professor and nationally known for advising officials in other states wanting to crack down on illegal immigration, helping draft tough laws in Arizona and Alabama. His push for photo ID and proof-of-citizenship rules for prospective voters brought him more national attention, and he’s even weighed in this year on gun rights proposals.