News Briefs

Kansas attorney general will enforce voting law where district attorney refuses

By: - August 2, 2021 5:56 pm

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says law enforcement agencies can contact his office with evidence of voting crimes. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Monday fired a warning shot ahead of Tuesday’s primary elections by making it clear his office could prosecute voting crimes anywhere in the state.

Schmidt referenced last week’s announcement by Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, who said she would not prosecute violations of a new voting law she views as too vague and too broad.

“Citizens throughout our state deserve assurance that state election-integrity laws will be enforced and election crimes, like all other crimes, will be prosecuted when warranted by the evidence,” Schmidt said.

Allegations of election crimes should be reported to law enforcement agencies, Schmidt said.

“Any law enforcement agencies that obtain evidence of election crimes may present the results of an investigation to our office for review, and we will make a prosecution decision based on the facts and law applicable to any individual case,” Schmidt said.

Voter fraud cases in Kansas and elsewhere are extraordinarily rare, and election officials encountered no problems last year.

The Legislature this year installed sweeping changes to election law through House Bill 2183 and House Bill 2332, prompting lawsuits from nonprofits that argue the legislation is intended to make it more difficult to vote. The laws also contain provisions that strengthen the penalties for tampering with the postmark on a mail ballot and create a new crime for assisting in the delivery of mail ballots.

The League of Women Voters of Kansas and Loud Light halted their registration drives because of a provision in HB2183 that makes it a felony crime for individuals to engage in conduct that would cause someone to believe they are an election official.

Valdez agreed with the groups, saying the language of the bill is too vague and too broad. She said she wouldn’t prosecute anybody under any part of the new law.

Schmidt is seeking the GOP nomination for governor in next year’s election. On Monday, Valdez accused him of trying to “pander to a certain segment.”

“This undermining of my local authority is a disturbing example of overreach, attempted intimidation and partisan bluster,” Valdez said. “As I have already stated, House Bill 2183 is too vague and too broad and seeks to ‘fix’ an already secure and thriving election system. The attorney general’s statement is a threat to those who educate the electorate and assist some of our most vulnerable citizens in exercising their right to vote.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.