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Secretary of State could lose election crimes authority

January 22, 2019

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Committees in the Kansas House are considering two bills that would repeal the secretary of state’s authority to prosecute election crimes, which was established after a long political fight by former Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Kobach had argued that his office should be able to prosecute election crimes to stop what he contended was widespread fraudulent voting by immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. He was given authority over election fraud in 2015 .

In 3½ years, Kobach prosecuted 10 to 15 cases of voter fraud. None of the defendants were immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, said Katie Koupal, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office. Two were immigrants who had legal permission to live in the U.S. but who were not eligible to vote. The others were U.S. citizens who voted in two states, usually because they had land in several states.

Kobach, who fashioned a national reputation as a fighter against illegal immigration and voting fraud, left the secretary of state’s office to launch an unsuccessful bid for governor, losing to Democrat Laura Kelly in November.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt says Scott Schwab, who replaced Kobach as secretary of state, wants to return to the office’s traditional responsibilities of registering businesses and administering elections, which would return prosecution of voting crimes to state and county prosecutors, The Wichita Eagle reported .

“The current secretary has told me he doesn’t want that authority, doesn’t have criminal prosecutors on his staff, and (since 2015) we’ve created our fraud/abuse litigation division at the AG’s office,” Schmidt said.

The House Judiciary Committee is considering a bill introduced by Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, and the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice is considering a slightly different version requested by Schmidt last week.

Carmichael said the secretary of state office should not prosecute voter fraud because it creates a conflict of interest.

“The secretary of state and his office are oftentimes the witnesses needed to prove the case,” Carmichael said. “You can’t prosecute the case and use your own employees as the witnesses, so it needs to be put back in the hands of professional prosecutors.”

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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