- Associated Press - Thursday, March 31, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri’s secretary of state would have the power to prosecute election crimes under a measure the Senate approved Thursday.

Senators voted 25-4 to allow the secretary of state’s office to issue probable cause statements and take cases to court. The office’s election division currently investigates complaints, but any prosecution is left to local officials or the attorney general’s office.

Sen. Will Kraus, a Republican from Lee’s Summit who sponsored the bill, said local prosecutors would still have the first opportunity to try a case. But often prosecutors focus on crimes in which someone was victimized, he said, so this bill would help ensure election cases have someone following through.

Kraus, who is a candidate for secretary of state, said he believes that office is well suited to investigate election cases because staff can easily access voter files.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has opened at least six criminal cases since he was granted that power last year by the state’s GOP-led Legislature. All those cases allege double voting.

Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat from Creve Coeur, said the secretary of state’s staff already has enough work without these additional responsibilities. She said other departments don’t prosecute cases in which they have expertise - they serve as expert witnesses.

Some Democrats suggested it was unseemly for Kraus to change the secretary of state’s duties while running for the office.

“I wish that I had been clever enough that, when I was in the House, to offer a bill that would vastly expand my powers as a senator before I ran for it,” said Sen. Jason Holsman of Kansas City.

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard rejected that implication, saying he sent the bill to Kraus because of his experience on the topic.

“We don’t have any senator in the Senate that has more integrity than Will, so I trust him on election issues,” he said.

The bill now goes to the House.

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