Kansas AG says he’ll enforce new election law after county DA pledged not to prosecute

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Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Monday he will prosecute any election crimes in Douglas County that the district attorney refuses to act on.

Last week Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, a Democrat, announced that she would not file charges under newly passed election laws that, among other provisions, make it illegal to “give the appearance of being an election official.”

Schmidt, a Republican and candidate for governor, urged law enforcement agencies in the county to refer their cases to him.

“Thousands of Kansans will go to the polls tomorrow in the municipal primary elections. Citizens throughout our state deserve assurance that state election-integrity laws will be enforced and election crimes, like all other crimes, will be prosecuted when warranted by the evidence,” Schmidt said.

The crime was established in a pair of election bills passed by the Kansas Legislature in the spring.

Provisions of the bills have been challenged by state-level voter engagement groups who say the law could criminalize their work if Kansans mistake volunteers for election officials.

The groups, including Loud Light and League of Women Voters of Kansas, announced last month they would halt all voter registration and engagement drives while the law remained in effect. They’ve asked a Shawnee County judge to issue an injunction but the judge has not yet ruled.

In a statement Tuesday, Valdez criticized the law as too vague and broad to enforce.

“Even the charge itself is a public record. A felony conviction can affect things like employment and housing, not to mention the loss of voting rights,” Valdez said.

But without an injunction, Schmidt said he would use his power as the Attorney General to review and prosecute any election law cases sent to his office.

Valdez said Monday that Schmidt had overreached by undermining her local authority.

“In his efforts to pander to a certain segment, Attorney General Schmidt continues to perpetuate a lie that he fostered in his failed efforts to subvert democracy in the 2020 presidential election,” Valdez said in a statement.

Davis Hammet, president of youth voter engagement organization Loud Light Action, said he was not surprised by the Attorney General’s announcement.

Knowing Schmidt could enforce the law over Valdez’s objections, Hammet said, meant Loud Light had not resumed their activities.

“It didn’t change our unwillingness to risk having volunteers charged with felonies,” Hammet said.

Loud Light and two other Kansas organizations filed one of two lawsuits brought against provisions of bills the Legislature passed in Kansas. The measures are part of a national push by Republican state legislators to use unfounded claims of voter fraud in 2020 to revise election rules.

A second suit, brought by the Campaign Legal Center, targeted a provision barring out-of-state organizations from sending advance ballot applications to Kansans.

Though Gov. Laura Kelly and Democrats in the Legislature denounced the bills as voter suppression, Republican proponents said they were a necessary step to prevent future election problems in Kansas.

The bills made several revisions to voting law, placing limits on the number of advance ballots a Kansan can return on behalf of other voters and curbing the powers of the Governor, Secretary of State and courts over elections.

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