Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft was growing frustrated with the limits of his office when it came to investigating voter fraud or election law violations. So, he gave lawmakers a choice.
“I asked them to either take away my responsibility to investigate these potential voting irregularities, potential voting fraud, potential violations of election law or give me the authority to actually do a real investigation,” Ashcroft told KCUR 89.3 on Thursday.
GOP Rep. Dan Shaul of Imperial drafted a billthat would give Ashcroft and future secretaries of state the power to subpoena documents for key investigations. The Missouri House gave it initial approval Wednesday, and a Senate hearing on a similar bill was held last month.
In Kansas, the secretary of state’s office has the authority to prosecute voter fraud cases, something former Secretary of State Kris Kobach was granted in 2015. His replacement in the office, Scott Schwab, is supporting pending legislation that would remove that power. Voter fraud cases remain relatively rare in both states and across the U.S.
But Ashcroft’s office has recently investigated complaints into violations of election law.
“We've had I think over 160 investigations that we've done, although some of them have been very easy to say, ‘Oh, there's nothing there,’” Ashcroft said. “But there have been times when we felt that we could not do as good a job because we didn't have the ability to subpoena documents.”
Ashcroft asked state Auditor Nicole Galloway’s office to use its subpoena power to assist with such a complaint filed against former Attorney General Josh Hawley. Ultimately, the attorney general’s office voluntarily turned over documents, and Ashcroft found no wrongdoing.
Democrats like Kansas City Rep. Judy Morgan sought to change the House bill, saying that giving more powers to the secretary of state’s office is unconstitutional and a future secretary of state could use subpoena power for political gain.
Morgan cited county clerks’ opposition to the legislation, which they say is unnecessary because the records could be obtained through the Sunshine Law or by local prosecutors.
“We are not talking about allowing voter fraud, we’re just saying you do have these sets of eyes, looking at it, but we don’t think it’s necessary for the secretary of state to have subpoena power,” Morgan said during a Wednesday floor debate on the bill.
Ashcroft would still be required to refer cases to prosecutors for charges. The bill still needs one more vote in the House before it heads to the Senate.
Samuel King is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter: @SamuelKingNews.