A majority in the Senate deflected opposition from Democrats on Tuesday to legislation granting authority to prosecute alleged crimes of voter fraud with the office of the state’s Republican secretary of state. The bill given first-round approval on a voice vote in the GOP-dominated chamber has been long-sought by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who expressed discontent with work by county prosecutors in addressing election misconduct. Senate Bill 34 would vest power to prosecute election crimes in district or county attorneys across the state, the Kansas Attorney General Office as well as the Secretary of State’s Office. In addition, the measure headed to a final vote Wednesday would elevate the state’s penalty for a series of voting offenses to felonies rather than misdemeanors.
There is little justification for adding Kobach to a 105-county network of prosecutors capable of examining election offenses, said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. “I see absolutely no reason. No other secretary of state in the country has this power,” said Hensley, who indicated such leverage in Kobach’s hands would be “dangerous.”
He said Kobach’s establishment of a political action committee to finance campaigns of candidates he favors had undermined the notion of nonpartisanship that should be a guiding principle of the state’s top elections officer.
Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, proposed an amendment, defeated 15-23, to strike the piece giving Kobach the right to prosecute alleged offenders of election law. A second defeated amendment offered by Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, would have provided county election officers power similar to that earmarked for Kobach. Under the Senate election law bill, the penalty for voting more than once would increase in Kansas from a class A misdemeanor to a severity level seven, nonperson felony.