Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said during a Monday meet and greet in Harper County that Kansas elections are solid. (Jan. 18, 2022, photo by Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said during a meet and greet with voters Monday in Harper County that he believes “Kansas elections are solid” and that he has “never seen the evidence” of widespread institutional problems here.
The comments illustrate the political tightrope Schmidt and Secretary of State Scott Schwab have to walk as Republicans talking about election integrity. Both have said Kansas elections are secure while supporting tighter voting restrictions and defending unconstitutional laws. Schmidt is running for governor this year, and Schwab is seeking reelection.
Schmidt’s comments drew interest from voting rights advocates who have fought the attorney general in courtrooms and the political arena on issues like requiring new voters to prove their citizenship before registering.
“I’m glad that the attorney general recognizes that all these big claims of voter fraud are just conspiracies that have no basis in evidence or reality,” said Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, which advocates for voting rights. “Of course, that’s a very low bar to say that the attorney general accepting reality is something even newsworthy.”
Kansas Reflector obtained a minute-long audio clip of Schmidt’s exchange with an unidentified voter during a meet and greet sponsored by the Harper County Republican Party at Higher Grounds and Leather Bounds in Anthony.
“I’d like to ask a question on election integrity, voting machines, mail-in ballots,” a woman said to Schmidt. “There was a gentleman that spoke to a committee and the state representative about how they could cheat by going through the election office. Can you tell us a little bit about that?”
Lawmakers have held several hearings this session in which out-of-state individuals floated dubious theories about possible voter fraud in Kansas.
“Here’s kind of my perspective on it,” Schmidt said. “I think, on the whole, Kansas elections are solid. I really believe that. I’m not saying there’s no problems. I’m saying we don’t have the types of widespread institutional problems — at least I’ve never seen the evidence — that I think some other states do.”
The comment follows the decision by Schmidt and Schwab last week to wave the white flag in defense of a 2021 law that criminalized the distribution of mail ballot applications. The state agreed not to object to arguments raised by nonprofit organizations that said the law violates the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The state also agreed not to appeal the judge’s decision to strike down the law and will pay attorney fees and court costs of the plaintiffs.
Voter fraud in Kansas is extremely rare. Former Secretary of State Kris Kobach failed to prove his claims of widespread voter fraud during a high-profile trial in 2018, when a federal judge determined his proof of citizenship law was unconstitutional. Schmidt’s office unsuccessfully defended the law before an appellate court and pursued a further appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.
Last year, Schmidt’s office agreed to pay the American Civil Liberties Union and other attorneys $1.9 million to cover attorney fees from the initial trial and appeals.
Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, said Schmidt’s latest remarks stand in contrast to efforts by the Legislature this session to restrict the use of drop boxes for advance ballots, reduce the timeframe in which mail-in ballots have to be delivered, and purge inactive voters from registration lists.
“The running of Kansas elections is solid, as the attorney general noted,” Kubic said. “But democracy in the state is not quite so solid, because if it were, politicians would not be doing their darndest to make voting harder and democracy weaker. We invite the attorney general to join the ranks of those defending democracy, by clearly coming out in opposition to the raft of anti-democracy bills in the Kansas Legislature.”
C.J. Grover, a spokesman for Schmidt’s campaign, said Kansas elections are secure because of the Legislature’s ongoing work to enact “preventative maintenance measures.” They include voter ID requirements and restrictions passed last year that make it illegal to assist with the delivery of advance ballots.
“That work should continue,” Grover said. “For example, like most Kansans, the attorney general thinks ballot drop boxes — which were only recently and suddenly put into widespread use because of the pandemic — should ordinarily be used sparingly and only if they can be fully secured, such as being observed by election officials. He thinks votes, including mail-in ballots, should be received by Election Day and voter rolls should continually be well-maintained to ensure accuracy.”
Hammet said the Legislature could work to improve elections without disenfranchising voters. Instead, Hammet said, lawmakers focus on “sloppy bills” produced by out-of-state groups that make it harder to vote.
“I would love for the attorney general to speak out more and ask the Legislature to stop passing unconstitutional voter suppression bills,” Hammet said. “It’s that weird political thing where there is a sizable part of Republican voters who have really bought into this. You have both the secretary of state and the attorney general in this weird position. Honestly, I think that both of them know that a lot of this stuff is nonsense.”
Schmidt has been criticized for sending top aides to a “war games” summit in advance of the 2020 presidential election, where they planned a response in case Joe Biden prevailed. The same group later helped organize the Jan. 6 insurrection. Schmidt also joined a federal lawsuit challenging the outcome of the presidential election.
Schwab faces a primary challenge from Mike Brown, a former Johnson County commissioner whose campaign is built on baseless claims about election security problems.
Schwab told supporters in a Feb. 23 campaign email that he was “writing today to address the false claims that have been made about our elections.” Although it is reasonable to question and verify election results, Schwab said, that is why Kansas has put so many safeguards in place. They include voter ID and signature verification laws, and post-election audits, Schwab said.
“We are constantly improving our current processes, with the Kansas Legislature now considering several of my proposals to enhance post-election audits, increase election equipment security, and ensure voter rolls are accurate,” Schwab said. “This is the best way to keep our elections safe, secure, and trusted.”
Schmidt and Schwab are engaged in state court legal fights over legislation passed last year, which included a provision that makes it a felony crime for individuals to engage in conduct that would cause someone to believe they are an election official.
When Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez announced she wouldn’t enforce any part of the new law because it was too vague and too broad, Schmidt responded by announcing he would handle any claims of voter fraud in Valdez’s district.
Valdez said she agrees with Schmidt’s comments from the Monday meet and greet: Kansas elections are solid.
“The attorney general should be encouraging participation in these solid elections instead of promoting the criminalization of traditional political activities and threatening trusted nonpartisan volunteers,” Valdez said. “He should commit now to decline prosecution of any law that has a chilling effect on voter engagement.”
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