Secretary of state weary of fact-averse out-of-staters who insult Kansas election system

GOP secretary of state eager to finish conversion of IT system for business filings

By: - May 23, 2022 11:45 am
Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a Republican seeking reelection, said Kansans should be confident in election security, resolution of redistricting was a relief and voters can look forward to deciding constitutional amendments in August and November. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a Republican seeking reelection, said Kansans should be confident in election security, resolution of redistricting was a relief and voters can look forward to deciding constitutional amendments in August and November. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Secretary of State Scott Schwab believes election security requires vigilance due to evolution of cyber threats, but the voice of Kansas’ top election official revealed a touch of exasperation when conversation pivoted to uninformed people dedicated to shaking public confidence in voting systems.

Schwab said Kansas had conducted 300 post-election audits without uncovering a single failure. Still, he said, people were pushing theories of voter misconduct that fell short when it came to leaping from suspicion to fact.

“Folks from out of state have come in and insulted the Kansas election system,” Schwab said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “And, they haven’t read our laws. They’ve never been here on Election Day. They’d never watched the tabulation process. They’ve never been a poll worker.”

He also recalled a conversation with a man who claimed to be in possession of a “formula” proving election fraud in Kansas, which could have been of interest to the attorney general.

“I said, ‘Thank you, I needed evidence to go to Derek Schmidt with. Show it to me,’ ” Schwab said. “He goes: ‘I don’t have it right here.’ ”

The Kansas Legislature adopted a collection of new election policies during the 2022 session, and Schwab said he had no objection to the Legislature’s efforts to make certain every legal vote was counted.

In the background, however, was a national movement stoked by election skeptics who declared — without evidence — the United States was awash in fraud.

“I believe our computer systems are safe in our office, but that doesn’t mean I just can walk away and move on to the next thing,” Schwab said. “We constantly have to monitor and work with Homeland Security in the the Kansas National Guard to make sure our systems are secure. But it goes beyond that. It is just making sure that people have confidence in the election.”

Eager for second term

Schwab, first elected secretary of state in 2018, is seeking a second term in the statewide office. He has a Republican opponent in the Aug. 2 primary — Mike Brown, a former member of the Johnson County Commission. On the Democratic Party’s ledger, Jeanna Repass is the lone official candidate.

The secretary of state in Kansas serves as the central authority on elections and plays a role in assisting the 105 counties in voting operations. The office of secretary of state also maintains records of Kansas businesses.

Schwab said most of the day-to-day work in the office had to do with business filings. Four years ago, he campaigned on a pledge to create a one-stop online method for people to create business entities. The computer system in the secretary of state’s office dedicated to the business registration proved inadequate, he said. Transition to a new system won’t be finished until 2023.

“We found out we had couldn’t get done in four years,” Schwab said. “We want to make sure we complete that campaign promise.”

Under the state’s antiquated IT system, investors interested in opening a Hays restaurant would file an LLC form with the secretary of state. But companies seeking a restaurant permit had to go through the Kansas Department of Agriculture. The Kansas Department of Revenue had permits for the sale of liquor and wine. If there were employee issues, the Kansas Department of Labor would could get involved.

Otherwise, Schwab said his office would work in a second term to update Kansas statute books to weed out outdated language. He said some laws on the books were a century old and conflicted with more recent law.

Redistricting controversy

The Kansas Supreme Court last week affirmed constitutionality of the Legislature’s redistricting maps for the 125 House and 40 Senate seats. The House is up for election in 2022, while the Senate won’t be on the ballot until 2024.

In addition, the state Supreme Court rejected a lower court judge’s decision the redrawn congressional map violated the Kansas Constitution. The substantive legal question centered on the GOP-controlled Legislature’s vote to split Democrat-rich Wyandotte County between two districts in an effort to make it easier for a Republican to carry the 3rd District served by Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids. The Legislature also moved Lawrence from the 2nd District to the rural, expansive 1st District.

“We’re glad as election officials that it’s finally settled, because we gotta get that election calendar out to our clerks,” said Schwab, who ran unsuccessful for Congress in 2006.

The filing deadline for statewide offices, including secretary of state and U.S. Senate, remained June 1. The deadline for the four U.S. House districts, the Legislature and the state Board of Education was pushed back to June 10 due to the legal scramble.

Constitutional amendments

Schwab said there was merit to each of three proposed amendments to the Kansas Constitution appearing on statewide ballots in 2022. Each constitutional reform was endorsed by two-thirds majorities of the Legislature, and each in one way or another defined political authority in Kansas.

In the Aug. 2 primary, registered voters in Kansas have an opportunity to decide whether to let stand a decision by the state Supreme Court that identified a right to abortion in the state constitution’s Bill of Rights. The section emphasized by the justices: “All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Under the state court’s decision, abortion would remain legal in Kansas even if the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Roe v. Wade case establishing a national right to abortion.

Schwab, who has opposed abortion while serving in the Kansas House member and as secretary of state, said the opinion placed in jeopardy existing or future Kansas law restraining abortion.

“It could get to the point where really … whoever does a pedicure is more regulated than an abortion doctor, which is terrifying. And it just depends on how the pro-abortionists how far they want to take it,” Schwab said.

The Nov. 8 general election ballot in Kansas affords voter the chance to decide whether the constitution ought to require county sheriffs to be elected. Schwab said popular election was a better method of choosing a sheriff than appointment by county officials.

In addition, this fall’s ballot includes an amendment to enable the Legislature to reject or suspend administrative rules or regulations crafted by state agencies.

Schwab said he recalled what it was like to be a state legislator frustrated with regulatory actions of Democratic administrations.

“I served under Kathleen Sebelius for six years and then Mark Parkinson for two,” he said. “Some of these rules and regs like this is a policy discussion for the Legislature.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.