TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) – Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office has charged three voters in two counties of casting ballots illegally while voting in another state in the same elections, filing the first cases under a new state law giving him the power to prosecute election fraud allegations.
Details of the cases in the Kansas City area’s Johnson County and northwest Kansas’ Sherman County became public Tuesday. Kobach’s top deputy filed the cases late Friday, and the courts were closed Monday for Columbus Day.
Kobach, a conservative Republican and former law professor, won the state’s top elections job in 2010 by describing election fraud as a major problem in Kansas and promising to crack down on it. His critics contend the laws he’s shepherded through the GOP-dominated Legislature, such as a requirement for new voters to document their U.S. citizenship when registering, suppress turnout.
The secretary of state’s office filed 10 criminal charges, including three felony counts, in Sherman County against Lincoln L. Wilson, 64, who was registered both in Goodland, Kansas, and Hale, Colorado. According to records in both states, Wilson voted in both Kansas and Colorado in the same elections in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
In Johnson County, Kobach’s office filed three misdemeanor charges each against Steven K. Gaedtke, 60, and his wife, Betty Gaedtke, 61, who had been registered to vote both in Olathe, Kansas, and Yellville, Arkansas. Election officials said they voted in both states in November 2010.
“Our republic is based on the principle of one person, one vote,” Kobach said in a brief interview. “Double voting is a serious crime. It undermines the equality of citizens.”
Messages left at telephone listings for Wilson and the Gaedtkes were not immediately returned, and court records did not indicate whether they have attorneys. Wilson’s first court appearance is Nov. 3, while the Gaedtkes are scheduled to appear in court Dec. 3. All three were registered in Kansas as Republicans.
Kansas has required voters to show photo ID at the polls since 2012, and the proof-of-citizenship requirement took effect in 2013, making Kansas one of four states with such a rule. Kobach argued his office also needed the power to pursue election fraud cases because they’re often a low priority for busy prosecutors, but resistance from many lawmakers, including some Republicans, kept them from granting him the power until this year.
Kobach’s office filed the criminal cases a week after county election officials, under a new rule imposed by him, began canceling more than 31,000 voter registrations that had been incomplete for more than 90 days. Most were for prospective voters who had not complied with the proof-of-citizenship requirement.
Kerry Gooch, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, criticized Kobach for blocking tens of thousands from voting “to find three people in five years.”
But Kobach said he focused first on filing cases over 2010 incidents because state law prevents prosecutors from filing charges for most crimes after five years. He said he expects to file more cases within the next two months.
The most serious charges against Wilson are three counts of election perjury, or making false statements to election officials about being qualified to vote. It’s punishable by up to seven months in prison for a first-time offender, though the presumed sentence is a year’s probation.
The most serious charges against the Gaedtkes are one misdemeanor count each of voting without being qualified, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in a county jail.