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Kansas AG wants to end elections chief’s prosecution power

November 16, 2018

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2015, file photo, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt talks to lawmakers at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Schmidt is proposing to strip the secretary of state's office of its power to prosecute election fraud cases. Schmidt announced the proposal Friday, and Secretary of State-elect Scott Schwab said he supports it. The GOP-controlled Legislature would consider the measure after convening its next annual session in January. (Thad Allton/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas’ attorney general proposed Friday that legislators strip the secretary of state’s office of its power to prosecute voter fraud cases, less than four years after lawmakers made conservative Republican Kris Kobach the nation’s only state elections chief with such authority.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt outlined his proposal just 10 days after Kobach lost the Kansas governor’s race.

Secretary of State-elect Scott Schwab, a Republican like Schmidt, endorsed the proposal, as did Democratic Gov.-elect Laura Kelly and the Kansas Senate’s top Democrat. Lawmakers would consider the measure when their next annual session convenes in January.

Kobach has been the strongest Kansas ally of President Donald Trump and served last year as vice chairman of a short-lived presidential commission on election fraud. He successfully pushed for passage of some of nation’s toughest voter identification laws and persuaded the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature to give his office prosecution power in 2015.

Kobach is an attorney and former law professor, while Schwab is not a lawyer. Schmidt noted that his office formed its own fraud and abuse division in 2016 that can handle the “relatively small number” of election fraud cases.

“It appears the time is right for a more traditional approach to enforcing the state’s criminal laws against voter fraud,” Schmidt said in a statement, adding that it would be “more efficient.”

Schwab, a Kansas House member, supported giving the secretary of state’s office prosecution power. But he said during his campaign he would forward cases the office investigated to the attorney general’s office or local prosecutors.

Schwab said that after reviewing Schmidt’s proposal, “I see nothing that causes me concern and I thank him for taking the lead on this issue.”

Kobach argued in 2015 that the secretary of state’s office has the expertise to pursue election fraud cases and that local prosecutors and the attorney general’s office often are too busy with other cases. His office has filed 15 cases, most dealing with people who vote illegally in Kansas while voting in another state in the same election, most ending with convictions or guilty pleas.

He said that any secretary of state can decline to use the office’s prosecution powers but it would be “counterproductive” to deny the authority to a future secretary.

“If a future attorney general lacks interest in addressing voter fraud for political reasons, then the secretary of state may be the only official willing to act,” Kobach said in a statement. “The people of Kansas need this protection.”

Kelly, a veteran state senator from Topeka, voted against giving the secretary of state prosecution power in 2015. Spokeswoman Ashley All said the governor-elect agrees with Schmidt that Kansas should return to how it handled election fraud cases previously.

And Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, another Topeka Democrat, said stripping the secretary of state’s office of prosecution power is “a no-brainer.”

“It should have never gone there in the first place,” Hensley said. “Kris Kobach was basically out of control with this notion that somehow we had rampant voter fraud across Kansas.”

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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