Prosecutors question Kobach claims of voter fraud in Kansas

By ROXANA HEGEMAN | February 10, 2015 | 1:36 PM EST

In this Monday, Jan. 12, 2015 photo, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach presides over the Kansas House while new members are sworn in during the opening day of the Kansas legislature in Topeka, Kan. Kobach is proposing several measures before the legislature including giving his office the power to prosecute voter fraud. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect behind some of the nation's strictest voter ID requirements, is asking lawmakers to give him the power to press voter fraud charges because he says prosecutors do not pursue cases he refers.

The state's top federal prosecutor, however, says Kobach has not sent any cases his way. Some county prosecutors say cases that have been referred did not justify prosecution.

The conservative Republican publicly chastised Kansas-based U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom late last year, telling Topeka television station WIBW he had referred voter fraud cases to Grissom and that Grissom didn't "know what he's talking about" when he said voter fraud doesn't exist in Kansas.

But in a Nov. 6 letter sent from Grissom to Kobach and obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request, the prosecutor responded that his office received no such referrals from Kobach, and chided the secretary of state for his statements.

"Going forward, if your office determines there has been an act of voter fraud please forward the matter to me for investigation and prosecution," Grissom wrote. "Until then, so we can avoid misstatements of facts for the future, for the record, we have received no voter fraud cases from your office in over four and a half years. And, I can assure you, I do know what I'm talking about."

Grissom told the AP last week that Kobach never replied to his letter.

"We want to uphold the integrity of the voting system and people's ability to exercise their right and have their voice heard as part of the process," Grissom said. "And we have the ability, we have the resources, to prosecute any case in which someone believes there has been any voter fraud or voter misrepresentation."

Kobach acknowledged in an email to the AP last week that his office never has sent suspected voter fraud cases to Grissom, citing instead what he said was inaction on cases referred by his predecessor.

Grissom said the FBI determined two cases referred before Kobach took office in January 2011 were not voter fraud.

Kobach said last week that his office "felt it would be more productive to refer cases first to Kansas county attorneys rather than sending them first to Mr. Grissom's office."

"That is the approach we have taken for the last few years," he said.

Kobach told lawmakers last month that in the 2010 and 2012 Kansas elections, for which there were 1.7 million registered voters, his office found 18 total cases where someone double-voted by voting in advance in one state and at the polls in another.

He said 15 cases were referred to county prosecutors, one was dropped because the voter had died, one was sent to the FBI and one was referred to the Texas attorney general, who Kobach said was more aggressive about pursuing voter fraud cases than some Kansas prosecutors.

Kobach said action was taken in only seven cases, which is why he needs the power to press charges himself.

The Sedgwick County district attorney's office, located in the state's largest metropolitan area, said it investigated the one case Kobach referred to there, but the facts behind it didn't warrant prosecution. The chief of staff for the Shawnee County Attorney's Office, Lee McGowan, said Kobach never referred a voter fraud case to him, even though the case Kobach sent to the Texas attorney general's office involved a Shawnee County voter.

"We have 105 counties with 105 county attorneys — I don't know how having 106 is going to make it any better. I just don't see the need for it," said Barry Disney, the senior deputy prosecutor at the Riley County attorney's office.

In addition to giving the state's top election office prosecutorial authority, proposed legislation being pushed by Kobach would expand the Kansas attorney general's power to independently prosecute local election offenses without getting county prosecutors' approval, which currently is required by Kansas law. It also increases voter fraud penalties.

Proponents of strong voter ID laws say they're designed to combat voter fraud. Critics say they're crafted to keep Democratic-leaning constituencies — such as minorities and poor people — away from the polls. Studies have shown minority and low-income voters are more likely to lack a driver's license and have access to secure housing, leading to more frequent changes in addresses and voting precincts.