Hey Bob’s uncle’s ex-wife Mary’s sister’s cousin — Kansas GOP needs you to verify voter fraud

To support a bill that would tighten Kansas' voting restrictions, Sen. Caryn Tyson of Parker told a story about a county clerk who noticed dead people had signed a candidate's application to run for office. (April 6, 2021, photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Watch out with the Halloween costumes later this year, Kansans. One of your state senators has proposed making it a felony for anyone to impersonate the secretary of state or a county election clerk.

That was one of the amendments proposed last week in Senate debate about the state’s election laws, which wasn’t really a debate as much as it was an indulgence of monsters cooked up in Republican vats of election-fraud delusions, which they want us all to believe.

Proposed by Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Republican from Parker, the felony for impersonating the secretary of state is now part of a bill that Sen. Larry Alley was not joking about when he said it “would make it easy for everyone to vote.” (It restricts who can return an advance voting ballot for another voter and imposes other advance-voting requirements).

It would be mixing holiday metaphors to wish that this March 31 discussion was some sort of elaborate prank on the people of Kansas (you can see for yourself, starting around 5:57 in the video). But the Senators in pursuit of remedies for phantom fraud were too serious for April Fool’s Eve, even when they were talking about things they knew weren’t true.

“One thing we have seen during the last election cycle was the allegations of ballot harvesting. And I’m not going to say that they were all true, but there was allegations of ballot harvesting,” Alley told his fellow senators. “What we want to do is not have those types of allegations here in Kansas. We want to have safe, secure, fair and transparent elections.”

Never mind that Kansas’ (real) secretary of state, Scott Schwab, has told lawmakers that November’s election was absolutely safe, secure, fair and transparent.

“We have a lot of my colleagues across the country looking at the way we do things and how they can implement it, so they don’t have the frustrations that some states have,” Schwab said in January.

Still, suspicions lurked.

“I was just at a coffee this weekend,” Tyson reported. “The county clerk stood up. She had an application of voter registration, a petition for a candidate to get on the ballot. He swore on an affidavit that all the signatures were correct and accurate. She knows that two of those signatures, the person had been dead for over three years. Yes, we do have great elections in Kansas. But as with any process, any system, we can make them better.”

Sen. Ethan Corson, the freshman Democrat from Prairie Village, was dubious.

“We keep hearing these vague things: ‘I heard this there,’ ‘Somebody whispered in my ear that this,’ ‘Somebody told me they were concerned about that.’ But I mean, I’m a lawyer, I would just like to see evidence of these things. The Secretary of State is not aware of any of this evidence,” he said.

He went on: “I’m just a little bit reluctant to kind of believe the thing that, you know, Bob’s uncle told me down at the diner that his, you know, ex-wife Mary’s sister’s cousin told him about this person who got 12 ballots. I don’t think that’s how we should make public policy.”

Tyson took offense at Corson’s insinuation that she was lying. There might not be news stories or other reports about this incident, Tyson explained, because the county clerk “tried to mitigate the circumstances and take care of it.”

(Tyson later told the Reflector that the clerk who spoke up was from Montgomery County, and that she had tried to prosecute the candidate who filed an affidavit with dead signatories, but “nobody would prosecute.” Montgomery County Clerk Charlotte Scott-Schmidt did not immediately reply to my phone message and email.)

Corson apologized but reiterated: Despite no firm evidence of widespread voter fraud, lawmakers talk about it like something “always going under the radar that nobody is catching.”

This inspired Republican Sen. Mike Thompson, the climate-change-denying weatherman from Shawnee, to do “a quick internet search” where he indeed found evidence of voter fraud — at least 11 cases! My quick internet search probably took me to the same place: the conservative Heritage Foundation’s database. It shows 14 cases since 2005 (out of millions of votes cast) with each lone-wolf fraudster getting caught and punished. The most recent one is former Kansas Republican Congressman Steve Watkins.

In other words, voter fraud exists! I’ll acknowledge that. But it’s rare and people get in trouble for it. If Republicans, who love to talk about transparency, would just say that as they’re deploying scary anecdotes, their efforts to make it harder for Kansans to vote might deserve a little respect. Instead, it’s as if they’re impersonating election officers.