Voter fraud has turned into an intriguing issue this year in the race for Kansas secretary of state.
Kobach definitely doesn’t see it that way.
“Kansas has got a significant voter fraud problem, and it’s been well documented by the previous secretary of state,” said Kobach, a professor of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
He was referring to a 2008 memo released by the secretary of state’s office addressing allegations of voting irregularities from the previous 10 years. It’s a memo that Kobach cites often, pointing out that there are certainly more cases we don’t hear about.
According to the memo, about 75 cases of voting irregularities were reported over that decade, 50 of which involve people in Wyandotte County receiving ballots they hadn’t requested. It seemed that someone had forged their signatures.
“This form of voter fraud is done either by individuals or by an organized group,” Kobach said.
He speculates the tactic is designed to increase Democratic voter turnout because Democrats were the ones receiving the ballots.
But Biggs said the 2008 memo is much tamer than it sounds. He pointed out that 75 cases over a 10-year period is quite low, considering the millions of ballots cast.
“We simply have not been shown to have a problem with people voting for other people,” he said.
Biggs said the majority of voting violations are unintentional. They tend to be things like a mother improperly requesting an advanced ballot for her college student, or a husband signing an advanced ballot form for his wife.
Johnson County Elections Commissioner Brian Newby said the most common voting problems he hears about involve people who may have moved but were still registered at their old addresses.
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said that when acquaintances ask him about voter fraud, he tells them it is not widespread.
“No system is 100 percent foolproof,” Shew said. “But what you do, is, you put up enough checks and double checks, and things that would make it very difficult to do.”
Shew and Newby said that when they receive complaints, they turn the evidence over to prosecutors, who decide whether to pursue the case.
Bob Beatty, a professor of political science at Washburn University, said that unless voter fraud is perpetrated on a mass scale, it’s pretty hard for it to actually affect the outcome of an election.
“If it’s not systematic voter fraud, then it’s not benefiting anyone,” Beatty said. “It’s almost impossible that any of those cases would have any impact on any race.”
Beatty added that in a world of finite resources, prosecutors must decide which cases to prosecute. Often, if allegations of voter fraud are not large enough to make a difference in an election, violent or more pressing crimes would likely take priority.
But Kobach said those arguments miss the point.
He noted that voting discrimination has transformed since the days of Jim Crow, when a person was more likely to be discriminated against because of race.
“Today, disenfranchisement is most likely to occur when someone fraudulently votes and cancels out the vote of someone who was a legitimate voter,” said Kobach.
Kobach said he suspects illegal immigrants are voting fraudulently, although Biggs said they would try to avoid that kind of public exposure.
Kobach also said the secretary of state’s office could do more to investigate allegations in order to take the pressure off of prosecutors.
“That’s exactly the reason why we need to restructure prosecutions,” said Kobach. “Many county attorneys will say ‘I don’t have the time to spend on investigating this.’”