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Kansas appeals court rules Kobach can be investigated by citizen grand jury

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach listens as US President Donald Trump speaks during the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House in Washington, DC, July 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A citizen grand jury should investigate whether Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach intentionally chose not to process online voter registrations and prevented qualified residents from voting, the state Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

The ruling comes in a case that began in 2016, when Steven Davis, of Lawrence, filed a petition seeking a citizen grand jury in Douglas County to investigate voter tampering allegations against Kobach and his office.

The Douglas County District Court rejected that petition and a second petition Davis filed in 2017, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to support the allegations, The Kansas City Star reported .

The appeals court ruled the lower court was incorrect when it said Davis needed to provide specific allegations of a crime, when the state law requires only general allegations. The court ordered Douglas County to summon the grand jury.

Davis, 29, currently a Democratic candidate for Kansas’ 45th House district, said he believes the investigation is justified.

“The question of whether or not there’s enough evidence for an indictment, that’s for the grand jury,” he said.

Kansas is one of six states that allow citizens to request grand juries through petitions. Citizens must gather 100 voters plus 2 percent of the number of people who voted in the county’s last gubernatorial election. In Douglas County, that is 860 signatures. Davis collected 910.

The Court of Appeals noted that lawmakers changed the law in 2013 to make it easier to call a citizen grand jury — changes primarily supported by conservative Republicans at the time.

Kobach, a conservative Republican who is running for governor, is nationally known for promoting tough immigration and voter identification laws. In April, a federal judge found Kobach in contempt in a lawsuit challenging a Kansas law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s ruling.

Kobach said in 2016 that he supports the citizen grand jury law, but that it “doesn’t permit randomly going after a public figure with vague allegations unsupported by any facts.”

The court acknowledged in its ruling that calling a grand jury without probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and without the guidance of a professional prosecutor could have serious personal and professional consequences for the target of the investigation.

“But the Kansas Legislature has determined that it wants to provide for citizen-initiated grand juries and it wants them to have broad powers to investigate possible criminal activity,” the court said. “The wisdom of this law is not a concern of our court.”