Opinion

Election fraud conspiracies in Kansas Legislature threaten to demoralize voters, harm Republicans

March 23, 2022 3:33 am

Trump supporters gather outside the Maricopa County Elections Department on Nov. 4, 2020, demanding that all ballots for Donald Trump be counted. Inside the building, election workers were busy counting hundreds of thousands of ballots. (Jerod MacDonald-Evoy/Arizona Mirror)

Let’s step back from objective truth and reality for a moment to state the obvious: Claiming that Republicans nationwide are victims of pernicious voter fraud is pretty effective politically.

It allows the party to motivate its voters through grievance, it casts suspicion on hardworking elections officials whose jobs are understood by few, and it allows charlatan politicians like Donald Trump to bloviate without moderating or otherwise changing their positions. Sounds like a winner to me!

The problem, though, with making such claims is their specifics only make sense in a handful of purple states. Bring them to a red state like Kansas, like math teacher Douglas Frank has this year, and the entire enterprise doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Or as Rep. Pat Proctor, R-Leavenworth, wondered aloud last week, why would a shadowy cabal of leftwing election fixers do their work in a state with GOP supermajorities?

“What did they accomplish?” Proctor said, according to reporting from Kansas Reflector editor Sherman Smith. “Because there’s a huge risk to engaging in felonies to sway an election. What’s the point?”

The biggest risk for conservatives would be if voters across the state heard Frank’s mystifying conspiracy theories and decided not to vote at all.

That’s a self-own, pure and simple.

Rep. Tatum Lee, R-Ness City, accused fellow Republicans of being the problem in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Some legislators are ready to take the leap into Republican-on-Republican combat. When Frank addressed the crowd at Community Church in Topeka on March 15, with four honest-to-God Kansas legislators in attendance, the subject quickly turned from fraud to the malfeasance of fellow conservatives.

“The Democrats aren’t our problem up here in Topeka,” said Rep. Tatum Lee, R-Ness City, in Smith’s magisterial account. “And let me just tell you, Topeka is worse than we thought. It’s terrible. It’s absolutely terrible. But it’s not the Democrats. We know where they stand. We know they’ll stab us in the back, because we know what we know, right? It’s those that come to your Republican events, and they tell you how conservative they are. It’s the RINOs.”

Lee is the nightmare of GOP leaders in the Kansas Senate and House made incarnate. Embracing a fringe figure like Frank and encouraging a rapt audience not to defeat the opposition party, but to work against fellow Republicans.

Think about what Frank alleges for a moment. He believes a secret cabal of powerful left-wingers have been padding voter rolls for years to sway elections. Again, I can see the appeal of the argument in Arizona or Pennsylvania. But in Kansas this requires believing that former Secretary of State Kris Kobach and current Secretary of State Scott Schwab — both Republicans — have stood idly by while the state’s election system was fatally compromised.

Kobach may be many things, but a secret enabler of election fraud is most definitely not one of them. And Schwab, regardless of his flirtations with election security rhetoric, has been a stalwart defender of the state’s voting system. For that matter, Kansas Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt has backed Kansas elections.

“Fraud is not happening here in Kansas, and Derek Schmidt and Scott Schwab both agree,” said Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas.

Yet some people will agree with Frank instead.

Rep. Emil Bergquist, R-Park City, had pointed words for election fraud activist Douglas Frank last week. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

We know because people like Lee; Rep. Randy Garber, R-Sabetha; Rep. Cheryl Helmer, R-Mulvane; and Rep. Clarke Sanders, R-Salina, attended the church presentation. We know because several gave their own speeches. And we know because various shady elections bills have percolated throughout the session.

The true slap down came earlier in the day before the House Elections Committee. Rep. Emil Bergquist, R-Park City, took the role of Boston lawyer Joseph Welch, the man who put Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy in his place nearly 68 years ago.

Welch asked McCarthy then: “Have you no sense of decency?”

Berquist told Frank: “Forget about a political year — talk about individuals and their lives.” Kansas counties are filled with people, he said, who “do their very best to present a good election for their people.”

Kansans “would love to have a nation that they can depend on for the next 100 years,” Berquist added.

The unspoken message, of course, was that Frank’s wild accusations erode the foundations of that very democracy. If he’s right, no one should vote. No one should run for office. No one should volunteer to help out at the polls on Election Day.

That’s the risk Republican leaders now face after welcoming full-fledged conspiracy theorists into their party. Election fraud was a convenient excuse to tighten laws to target traditionally Democratic groups. But push too hard, as they did, and Republicans begin attacking their fellow party members and undermining democracy itself.

Frank has no place in debates over Kansas elections. If they’re smart, Kansas Republican leaders know that, too.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone 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. Most recently, Clay spent nearly 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.

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