This Kansas official says he’s securing elections. He might as well be defending us from hippos.

January 6, 2022 3:33 am

Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab isn’t actually working to prevent hippo attacks in Kansas. Instead, he advertises his work preventing something just as unlikely: systemic voter fraud. (Clay Wirestone illustration/Kansas Reflector, Schwab photo Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector, hippo photo Gusjer/Wikimedia Commons)

Imagine Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab made a big announcement last month: Kansas is one of the Top 10 most secure states from hippopotamus attacks.

We know for a fact that hippos are dangerous, Schwab writes in an imaginary campaign fundraising email, because they kill 500 people across Africa each year. They’re the most deadly mammal after humans, according to National Geographic. That’s why our Kansas secretary of state, with the assistance of an alert Legislature and everyday taxpayers, has erected hippo-proof fencing around the entire state.

We know the fences work, according to the Washington, D.C.-based (and entirely fictitious) Hippopotamidae Foundation. Its Special Office on Hippo Integrity has ranked all of the states on their ability to withstand hippo attacks, and Kansas just tied with Missouri for 10th place.

I can hear the objections already.

Kansas doesn’t have a problem with hippo attacks, you might say. This is a waste of money and resources for a totally imaginary issue.

Hold on, please. Let me stick up for the secretary of state. Sure, you might not have seen a hippo attack anyone firsthand. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. After all, more than 31,000 people died in Kansas in 2020 (the most recent year data was available). Can we prove that every single one of those wasn’t caused by a hippo attack? And if we got lucky in 2020, more than 27,000 people died the year before that. Hippos might have found some of them.

Better safe than sorry from the pudgy menace, as the Hippopotamidae Foundation says.

“Kansas has become a nationally recognized leader for our battle against the menace posed by rogue hippos,” Schwab said in his campaign’s not-at-all-real fundraising message. “While much has been accomplished to protect Kansans from these corpulent monsters, there is more work to be done.”


Battling a myth

I’m not writing about hippos, of course. I’m writing about voter fraud, which resembles deadly attacks by the waterborne mammals.

A fundraising email from Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab highlights an “election integrity” ranking from the Heritage Foundation.

Such maulings aren’t impossible by any means, and other countries might have to deal with the issue on occasion. In the United States, however, this counts as an imaginary problem. It’s not something Secretary of State Scott Schwab has to deal with.

Likewise, systemic voter fraud is a myth. It’s made up. It doesn’t happen.

Instead of the Hippopotamidae Foundation, we have the Heritage Foundation. The folks at the conservative think tank released their latest “Election Integrity Scorecard” last year, which Schwab dutifully touted in an all-too-real fundraising email.

Yes, there are people who at times vote somehow incorrectly. It happens. But there aren’t remotely enough votes miscast to change the results in any election, just as there aren’t remotely enough hippos loose in Kansas to threaten our precious bodily autonomy.

The reason Schwab touts the arbitrary Heritage rankings, though, is the conservative news and entertainment complex has taken its lead from Donald Trump. The former president can’t accept that he lost in 2020 and has invested immense psychic energy in persuading others (and perhaps himself) that Joe Biden stole his rightful victory.

Lucky for him, the right has for years been building the infrastructure to insist that hippo attacks — sorry, I mean voter fraud — are a pressing problem.

Kansas was ground zero for this fraudulent fairy tale, with former Secretary of State Kris Kobach leading the charge. The entire enterprise was exposed in court, as his trademark voter proof of citizenship law went down in flames. Kobach wound up having to take remedial legal courses for his appalling courtroom performance.

We all know this is bunkum. We’ve seen it in front of our eyes.


Journalistic takedown

One of the journalists who covered that trial (along with Kansas Reflector editor in chief Sherman Smith) was Jessica Huseman, formerly of ProPublica and now with the nonprofit Votebeat.

Kris Kobach appears for a recording of Kansas Reflector's podcast on July 20. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Kris Kobach appears for a recording of Kansas Reflector’s podcast on July 20, 2020. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Her Dec. 21 takedown of the Heritage list is worth reading in full, as it begins with pungent points about methodology and overall accuracy. Both are lacking, to put it kindly.

“The final list appears to be a simple ranking of who the Heritage Foundation politically prefers,” Huseman writes. “All but two of the top 10 states went for Trump in 2020, and all but one of the top 10 states have Republican chief elections officials. The exception is Wisconsin, whose Board of Elections is controlled by an even split of Republicans and Democrats and whose rules were radically altered several years ago by Republican then-Gov. Scott Walker. Perhaps most tellingly, all 10 of the top 10 states have — and have long had — legislatures controlled by Republicans.

“The flimsiness of this ranking was made all the more obvious when contrasted this week with the Associated Press’s in-depth analysis of actual vote fraud in the 2020 election. The AP painstakingly analyzed reports of fraud in all of the swing states contested by Trump, finding fewer than 500 potential cases — a number far too small to have swung any state’s results, much less the entire election.”

That’s the truth. That’s always been the truth.

While Republicans have made this their signature issue lately, Democrats have also questioned election outcomes in detrimental ways. Kansans deserve a chief elections officer who deals with facts rather than politicized disinformation. We deserve scrupulously nonpartisan leadership. Voters should be confident in the quality of our state’s real-world elections, not measures that prevent fictitious evils.

Hippos don’t threaten our state. Neither does voter fraud.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector's opinion editor. His Reflector columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and website across the state and nation. He has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Before joining the Reflector in summer 2021, Clay spent four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.