The Republican-controlled Kansas state House of Representatives on Sunday killed Secretary of State Kris Kobach's (R) hopes of becoming a prosecutor in an effort to stop a different, more controversial measure.
Early Sunday morning, in the closing hours of this year's legislative session, lawmakers scotched a bill that would have vested the secretary of state's office with the power to investigate and prosecute cases of voter fraud. Kobach had sought the authority, saying that county prosecutors did not have the resources to handle voter fraud. But the bill died after it was paired with legislation to require DNA collection for all arrests in the state.
Kobach's spokeswoman, Kay Curtis, stressed to The Huffington Post that the bill had support in the legislature and died solely because it was paired with the DNA legislation.
The measure had passed both the state House and Senate earlier, but due to differences was sent to a conference committee to negotiate a final version. It was then paired with the DNA collection bill and a bill related to bail bondsmen regulation, in an effort to speed legislation in the closing days of the state legislative session.
State Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), who voted for the prosecution measure, said House conservatives objected more to the paired DNA collection legislation, rather than the idea that Kobach should have the authority to root out voter fraud.
Kobach has made voter ID laws a top issue in the state and has been seeking prosecutor's powers since he took office in 2011, saying that voter fraud needs a dedicated investigator and prosecutor.
There were 221 reported cases of voter fraud in Kansas between 1997 and 2010, KWCH reported last year. But Claeys maintained that a crackdown is necessary and stressed that a dedicated prosecutor would show would-be fraudsters that election tampering is not tolerated in Kansas.
"We have some county prosecutors who treat the cases as minor or insignificant. We have others who are simply swamped with their regular caseload," Claeys said. "Having the secretary of state and the attorney general work to get these cases prosecuted sends a message that we won't allow corruption in our elections."
The idea of giving the secretary of state power to prosecute is not unprecedented, Claeys said. Other state offices, including the securities commissioner, double as prosecutors for specific types of crime.
Former state Rep. Ann Mah (D-Topeka), who leads Kansas Democrats' opposition to Kobach, told HuffPost that she was surprised lawmakers did not pass the prosecution bill, since the legislature has been receptive to other Kobach-backed measures.
Mah was the ranking Democrat on the state House Elections Committee in 2011 and 2012 and obtained documentation on voter fraud from Kobach's office that she said showed only 41 potential cases. She said most were mistakes, including instances of Kansas residents who had homes in other states and wrongly voted in both places.
“The fact is, there is nothing to prosecute," she said. "I didn’t testify [against the bill] because it would be fun to watch [Kobach] prosecute a snowbird for accidentally voting in Kansas and Arizona. The first time he sends grandma to jail for accidentally voting twice -- I wanted to watch.”