As the 2022 legislative session kicks off this week all eyes are on Topeka. It’s an election year and the issues tackled this session will have a huge impact on the midterm results.
Last session, the legislature followed several other Republican-led legislatures across the country in passing restrictive voting laws. Most notable of these laws included restricting voter registration drives and limiting the number of ballots an individual can bring to the polls on behalf of someone else.
GOP lawmakers seem poised to once again take up legislation that would make it harder for Kansans to vote. Secretary of State Scott Schwab has also said he’ll once again be pushing bills that create extra hurdles, including shortening the period of time county election officers have to wait before removing inactive voters from the voter rolls.
Such laws have been introduced and passed in the name of “election integrity."
Of course, election integrity is important. It’s essential to democracy. However, extensive research shows that election fraud is extremely rare — 0.0003% according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Most issues reported as voter fraud are actually voter or administrative error. Voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent and there is no evidence of large numbers of people voting illegally.
Previously, the Kansas legislature had expanded Secretary of State power to investigate fraudulent voting. As a result, Kris Kobach gained national attention for his diatribe against voter fraud in our state. However, even the former Secretary of State, who at the time claimed he had proof of over 100 cases of non-citizens voting illegally, was unable to find widespread voter fraud.
Kobach’s investigation resulted in thirteen prosecuted cases of voter fraud, only one of which was by a non-citizen. In the remaining twelve cases, registered citizens had cast two ballots in two different states during the same election. He expanded his investigation to the entire United States and found only 14 cases of fraudulent voting among the 84 million votes reviewed.
According to the voter fraud database collected by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, there were zero cases of voter fraud in Kansas in 2020 and only one in 2021 — former Republican Congressman Steve Watkins was charged with false voter registration.
False allegations of fraudulent voting have consistently been repeated despite no evidence to support these claims. This has made it harder for eligible Kansans to participate in elections and has undermined free and fair access to the ballot box.
These strict voting rules also make voting disproportionately difficult for communities of color and other marginalized groups —the poor, the less educated, those who have criminal records, and those who are new to the voting process like young people and new immigrants.
One pillar of democracy is the holding of free and fair elections that allow voters to choose their representatives. But voter suppression laws shift that power and allow for representatives to choose their voters by creating more barriers to the ballot box, especially among underrepresented groups.
The legislature would better serve Kansans by not focusing their limited time and resources on repeatedly addressing voter fraud when it is virtually nonexistent and instead focusing on issues that would contribute to bettering Kansans’ quality of life, like COVID-19 response, Medicaid expansion, and the elimination of the grocery tax, just to name a few.
Alexandra Middlewood, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Wichita State University.