Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says his office has the names of 115 non-citizens who illegally registered or tried to register to vote in Kansas, but he won’t be able to prosecute many of them.
Kobach is the only secretary of state in the country who is authorized to prosecute voter fraud. He has cited non-citizen voting to support his push for laws that require Kansans to produce U.S. citizenship documents like passports and birth certificates to register. But so far the cases his office has taken on have been against lawful citizens who Kobach said illegally voted in multiple states.
On Tuesday Kobach told the Kansas Senate Ethics and Elections Committee about the 115 non-citizen registrants. In an interview after the committee meeting, Kobach said he wouldn’t be able to prosecute most of them because they registered more than 10 years ago.
“Now if they subsequently voted within the last five years, then that is a prosecutable crime,” Kobach said. “But the problem is the statute of limitations.”
Kobach said he’s considering prosecuting one of the more recent registrations.
He was at the committee meeting to promote Senate Bill 37. The legislation would allow his office to set up a two-tiered voting system that prohibits Kansans from voting in state and local races if they have signed an affidavit swearing to their citizenship but have not produced the required documents.
Kobach had set up such a system after a federal court blocked the proof-of-citizenship requirements from being imposed on voters who register when they get their driver’s licenses. That system has since been blocked by a judge who said state law did not give him the authority to do that.
On Tuesday Kobach told legislators that the list of 115 was compiled largely by cross-referencing a list of temporary driver’s license holders who are in the state legally but are not U.S. citizens.
That accounted for 80 of the 115 names. Almost all the rest came from Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman, a Kobach appointee. Lehman said she and her staff have been regularly attending naturalization ceremonies to help new citizens register and found 32 were already registered.
A spokeswoman for Kobach’s office said the other three on the list were non-citizen residents of Finney County, Barton County and Johnson County who attempted to register but were stopped by the proof-of-citizenship requirements.
Opponents of the requirements said they want more proof of the 115 cases Kobach cited and said some could have been mistakenly registered by state workers at the Division of Vehicles.
“I have no reason to believe that list is legitimate,” said Davis Hammet, the president of Loud Light, a Topeka nonprofit that aims to boost voter turnout.
Other opponents like the American Civil Liberties Union and League of Women Voters said the list cited by Kobach pales in comparison to the 17,500 Kansans who had their registrations suspended by the proof-of-citizenship requirements before courts intervened last year.
An unknown number of Kansans who registered at the Division of Vehicles also continued to get receipts saying they could not vote in state or local elections through the October registration deadline for the general elections.
Doug Bonney, the lawyer who has handled the ACLU’s multiple legal challenges against Kobach, told legislators that changing state law by passing SB37 would not end those court fights.
“Our cases do include constitutional challenges to the law,” Bonney said.
Andy Marso is a reporter for KMUW's Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach him on Twitter @andymarso.