Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has five days before he must decide whether to sign a bill expanding the power of Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) to prosecute voter fraud cases.
If Brownback does sign the legislation, which has already passed both chambers of the state legislature, Kobach would be given the power to prosecute voter fraud cases even when, according to critics, local prosecutors had opted against moving forward with those cases.
Kobach is a prominent figure in conservative “voter fraud” circles, loudly declaring that voter fraud is rampant and pushing new laws that have the effect of restricting access to voting, especially among voters who tend to favor Democrats. Voting experts, on the other hand, point to studies that show voter fraud is relatively rare with negligible impact on election outcomes.
“I very much worry about Kobach getting additional prosecutorial authority, as he seems to be someone who is willing to make false or exaggerated claims of voter fraud to fit his political narrative,” election law expert Rich Hasen told TPM in an email.
Under current Kansas law, Kobach must refer cases of voter fraud to local prosecutors. Under the bill sitting on Brownback’s desk, those prosecutors would still handle voter fraud cases but Kobach’s office could move criminal charges on its own. “The bill also would upgrade penalties for several voting offenses to felonies from misdemeanors,” according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.
Brownback’s office is mum about whether the governor will sign the legislation.
“The Governor has not signed the bill. We received the bill on May 29. By law the Governor has 10 days to either sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature,” Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley told TPM in an email on Wednesday. “We carefully review all bills that come to the Governor’s desk.”
That leaves until June 8 for Brownback to sign the bill into law.
Kobach has been pushing for this prosecutorial authority for a while. In his re-election campaign in 2014 he portrayed himself as particularly tough on voter fraud. He’s crafted some of the strictest voter ID laws in the country and led the charge in calling for his state to require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.
In an interview with the Capital-Journal in May, after the bill passed by a slim 63-57 vote margin in the Kansas House of Representatives (it needed 63 votes to pass), Kobach said his office had identified 100 cases of voter fraud in the 2014 general election cycle alone.
The Associated Press in February noted that Kobach has griped about prosecutors dragging their feet on voter fraud cases he refers to them. Kobach previously squabbled with Kansas U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom in 2014 over voter fraud cases, telling a local television station that Grissom had no idea “what he’s talking about” when the federal prosecutor said the rampant voter fraud Kobach has warned of doesn’t exist.
Kobach’s crusade against voter fraud has been underwhelming. In 2013 he reviewed 84 million votes in 22 states but only came up with 14 examples of alleged voter fraud that were referred for prosecution, or a tiny 0.00000017 percent of the 84 million votes.
In April TPM also reported that the chief data officer for the Republican National Committee suggesting that voter fraud really only constitutes “about 1 percent” of votes cast.