The White House may have scrapped the controversial national election integrity commission that he was helping to lead, but Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is still rooting out alleged voter fraud in his home state.
Armed with powers not usually assigned to a secretary of state, Kobach filed a pair of criminal complaints Thursday against two people he said voted when, and more, than they had the right to.
In 2016, Kobach contends, Que J. Fulmer voted in both Hamilton County, Kansas, and in Colorado. He charged Bailey Ann McCaughey of voting twice in the same election, in Finney County, Kansas, and Colorado. Both Hamilton and Finney counties sit in western Kansas.
“These prosecutions will help deter voter fraud in the future,” Kobach said.
Kobach, a likely frontrunner among Republicans running for governor, has marked much of his career battling voter fraud. He insists it’s far more common than most experts believe. Legislators gave Kobach’s office the power to file criminal charges in election fraud cases in 2015. He’s the country’s only top election official with that authority.
While he warns of illegal voting by non-citizens -- immigration control is another signature issue for him -- all of the dozen-plus people he’s charged with election fraud in Kansas are U.S. citizens.
Twelve of the 14 voter fraud cases that he’s filed have been for double voting, which Kobach contends is a serious crime.
“The consequences of double voting are the same as the consequences of voting by a non-citizen,” he said. “You still have an illegal vote cast and that illegal vote might tip the election.”
The day before the charges, Kobach saw a federal judge rule on a pending case on his efforts to demand more reliable proof of citizenship for voter registration. That lawsuit goes to trial in March.
The court ruling excluded some testimony for Kobach’s cause because the judge said it lacked the necessary expertise to back it up.
Republicans typically argue it’s too easy to register to vote, that officials should insist on birth certificates and other documents to screen out non-citizens and that states need to compare their lists with each other to stop people from voting in two places.
Democrats commonly respond that voter fraud is rare and tougher I.D. demands make it unreasonably hard for the poor or the elderly to cast ballots. They also think that programs such as Crosscheck designed to identify people registered in multiple states could exclude citizens who simply have the same name as another voter.
Kobach has an ally for his cause in President Donald Trump, who installed the Kansas Republican as the key player on a national commission created to document how much voter cheating takes place.
That panel quickly ran into trouble when many of Kobach’s fellow secretaries of state across the country refused to turn over voter records, often state citing laws that barred them from sharing the information.
So when Trump scrapped the voting commission, Kobach’s rivals in Kansas leapt to declare it a failure of the man they need to beat in the governor’s race.
“We see that the only thing Kris Kobach accomplished was wasting taxpayer money," said Ed O’Malley, a former state representative and another candidate in the GOP field. “If voter fraud is a major problem and Kris Kobach spearheaded this effort, he failed to bring the commission together to produce meaningful and measurable outcomes, which means the problem will continue.”
Kobach said the work scuttled by opposition from left-leaning organizations will now be done by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where he will continue to play a role.
“Absolutely I’ll be involved,” he said. “Now that we are doing the investigation through the Department of Homeland Security things will happen a lot faster.”
Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks.