TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas’ race for secretary of state is wrapping up amid a partisan national dispute over requiring photo identification at the polls and whether such steps combat election fraud problems or disenfranchise voters.
Republican Kris Kobach’s “stop voter fraud” slogan is the cornerstone of his campaign against Democratic incumbent Chris Biggs. For months, they’ve debated roughly three dozen reports of potential election irregularities in the past 12 years.
Kobach contends the scattered cases signify a big problem. Biggs argues a few potential cases a year mean Kobach has an “obsession with an imaginary issue.”
The same partisan divide has arisen before Tuesday’s elections in at least a handful of other states. Nationally, secretary of state contests will help determine who administers elections in each state in 2012, when President Barack Obama, a Democrat, is likely to seek re-election.
“The secretary of state posts are too often neglected by Republicans,” Hans von Spakovsky, a lawyer who once handled election issues for former President George W. Bush’s Justice Department, said in an e-mail promoting an October fundraiser for Kobach in Washington.
Von Spakovksy’s e-mail called secretaries of state races “crucial.” Democrats are watching them, too.
“If we had qualified secretaries of state in Florida in 2000 or Ohio in 2004, the presidential elections may have been very different,” a recent fundraising e-mail from Washington-based 21st Century Democrats said, referring to Bush’s victories and states with disputed vote counts.
Kobach, a Kansas City-area law professor and former state GOP chairman, would require voters to show photo identification at the polls and present a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship when registering to vote for the first time somewhere.
“Why wouldn’t we take some reasonable steps to stop election fraud in the future?” Kobach said. “There’s no downside to it.”
The National Conference of State Legislatures says eight states have photo ID laws. In Kansas, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed a bill in 2008.
Biggs, appointed to fill a vacancy in March, contends Kobach’s proposals would keep some Kansan residents from voting and represent an overreaction to rare problems.
“What about the people who might get wrongfully disenfranchised?” Biggs said. “That needs to be a part of the equation, too.”
One issue is whether registration lists are flawed enough to allow fraud.
Federal law requires counties to keep some inactive voters on their rolls, and election officials concede the lists contain names of voters who’ve died. In eight counties, the number registered Friday exceeded 2009 census estimates for the voting-age population.
An internal February 2008 memo prepared under Biggs’ GOP predecessor lists 30 reports of alleged irregularities dating to 1998, involving at least 120 ballots. But the memo concedes many reports came without evidence.
Thirteen reports alleged people voted in others’ names, but most involved family voting for other family or nursing home workers voting for residents.
Two reports alleged double voting, one resulting in prosecution. Other reports alleged advance ballots picked up from voters weren’t delivered.
“We see enough of this stuff to know that it happens,” von Spakovsky said in an interview. “You’re not going to find it if you don’t have the checks in place to find it.”
Last year, the secretary of state’s office ran registration lists against a list of foreign nationals with Kansas driver’s licenses and found several dozen potential matches. Two non-citizens voted, and they’re being prosecuted, Biggs said.
Kobach said this week he had evidence of a potentially questionable vote cast in the August primary in Sedgwick County for a man dead since 1996. The local election commissioner said the man’s son cast the ballot.
That’s typical with such allegations, said Justin Levitt, author of a 2007 report on election fraud by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school. The report also said impersonating someone at the polls is rarer “than death by lighting.”
“What you often see are assertions of widespread fraud, tied to particular anecdotes and particular investigations,” said Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor in Los Angeles. “Many of the claims don’t pan out.”
Election fraud also has been an issue in Minnesota, where Secretary of State Mark Ritchie presided over the 2008 count for the U.S. Senate race won by fellow Democrat Al Franken by 312 votes out of 3 million cast. The issue has been part of races in Colorado, Iowa and Michigan.
Some critics see fraud allegations as a push by Republicans for policies suppressing turnout among poor and minority voters more likely to back Democrats.
“Republicans are back to their old tricks and voters need protection,” the 21st Century Democrats’ e-mail said.
But supporters of ID laws note Indiana’s survived two legal challenges because those suing didn’t include individuals who couldn’t vote.
Even when a federal appeals court panel struck down Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship requirement this week, it rejected an argument that it disproportionately affected minorities.
In his e-mail for Kobach, von Spakovsky said safeguarding elections required a GOP “counter-insurgency” to match efforts by liberal groups opposed to voter ID and other measures.
“The Left has been targeting these elected positions,” he wrote.

On the Web

• Chris Biggs’ campaign: www.biggsforkansas.com/
• Kris Kobach’s campaign: www.kriskobach.org/