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Court OKs Citizen's Grand Jury To Probe Kobach On Voter Registration

File photo by Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3 FM
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach outside a federal courthouse during a trial over his handling of voter registration earlier this year.

The Kansas Court of Appeals said Friday that a grand jury investigation of Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office should go forward. The request was brought by a Lawrence man running for the Kansas House, Steven Davis.

He followed a rarely used Kansas law that allows citizens to call grand juries by collecting signatures.

Davis wants to know whether Kobach’s office mishandled voter registrations and whether any crimes were committed.

Davis said he’s heard, anecdotally, that people who registered online didn’t have their registrations completed and couldn’t vote. He suspects the office may have improperly handled registrations, which is why he pursued the investigation.

“As a private citizen, I don’t have any ability to do that on my own,” he said. “That’s why I think this grand jury process is important because they have the power to do that investigation and I don’t.”

However, Davis said he’s not assuming the grand jury will uncover evidence of crimes and issue indictments.

“First of all, I would like to make sure the system works going forward,” he said. “I do think the evidence is out there.”

The call for the grand jury asks for investigation into several potential crimes, and Kobach fired back against the claims in a statement.

“Mr Davis's petition accuses the agency of criminally handling voter registrations, yet he presented no evidence of this,” Kobach said in the statement. “His allegations are patently false.

“It is unfortunate that a citizen's privilege of being able to petition for a review of government action is being used for political gain at the taxpayer's expense.”

A lower court previously denied Davis' request for a grand jury, but the appeals court overturned that decision.

A website glitch prevented some Kansans from registering to vote online, Kobach said last year. Davis pointed to this to back up his suspicion of mishandled registrations.

Director of Elections Bryan Caskey said the online system malfunctioned during a brief period.

“The election officials at the county and state level worked quickly to correct the malfunction and to allow the affected voters to cast their votes,” he said in a statement.

The Court of Appeals ruling isn’t a finding that any crimes were committed. The court only said a grand jury should be convened in Douglas County to investigate.

The grand jury could start meeting in around three months, Davis said.

Only a half dozen states allow citizens to call grand juries.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

As the Kansas News Service managing editor, I help our statewide team of reporters find the important issues and breaking news that impact people statewide. We refine our daily stories to illustrate the issues and events that affect the health, well-being and economic stability of the people of Kansas. Email me at skoranda@kcur.org.
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