Candidates Scott Schwab and Jeanna Repass discuss gerrymandering and 2021 voting legislation during a debate Tuesday at KTWU studios at Washburn University in Topeka. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Bucking national trends, the Democratic candidate running for Kansas secretary of state said election deniers need to be listened to while the Republican incumbent candidate quashed theories of voter fraud in the Kansas electoral system.
Democratic candidate Jeanna Repass, an Overland Park resident, is running against incumbent Secretary of State Scott Schwab. Repass said her goal is to restore public confidence in the state’s electoral process and increase voting accessibility for Kansans.
During a debate sponsored by Washburn University and broadcast by KTWU on Tuesday in Topeka, Repass said Kansans who doubted the electoral system need to have their concerns heard.
“There are people who don’t believe in our process, whether they saw a YouTube video or whether they read something online,” Repass said. “It is our responsibility to re-instill that in them. And dismissing them, being flippant about them, that is not going to get us where we need to go.”
Schwab said people who still believe in widespread Kansas election fraud need to be ignored.
“There’s a handful of people who still think the world’s flat too,” Schwab said. “You have to move on to the people who want the truth and not the people who, you solve their one lie, look to the next lie because they care more about believing a lie than learning the truth.”
The Secretary of State is the state’s top elections officer and has a lot of influence over voting access. Schwab has repeatedly declared Kansas elections safe and secure, bucking national and local trends of Republicans casting doubt over ballot accuracy.
Schwab has stayed strong on this stance, including in 2020, when several high-ranking Kansas Republicans supported former President Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud.
“At the end of the day, it’s easy to vote in Kansas and it’s hard to cheat,” Schwab said.
Repass said she believed Kansas elections were secure but that many Kansans didn’t share her belief.
“If you look at those processes, there were several protocols where we missed a step,” Repass said. “I don’t believe it changed the outcome of a single election, and that’s why the elections were certified and that’s why we stand by those. The fact of the matter is, until we get more of our electorate who believe our elections are free and safe and fair, we’ve got a problem.”
When asked which protocols she thinks were skipped, Repass said the chain of custody protocol wasn’t followed in some places, with ballots being moved improperly.
“I am saying, let’s take the oxygen out of those arguments. Let’s follow the protocols we have in place, and let’s listen to people,” Repass said.
Both candidates said they were against voter intimidation and believed drop boxes were a safe form of ballot delivery.
Repass said she supports making Election Day a holiday to make it easier for Kansans to cast their ballots. Schwab said his office had worked diligently to make voting easier for Kansans through early voting, but he didn’t think a holiday was necessary.
Both candidates are against same-day voter registration. Schwab said the current system is already effective and that same-day registration would create unnecessary complications. Repass said the system needed to be fixed before new elements were added, saying voter disenfranchisement and distrust should be addressed first.
Candidates were asked about House Bill 2183, voting legislation passed in 2021. The bill made it illegal for one person to deliver more than 10 advance voting ballots on behalf of other voters.
The bill makes handling a voter’s ballot a misdemeanor crime for people who aren’t election officials, unless it’s on behalf of a family member, and prohibits people from delivering advance voting ballots on behalf of other people without a signed written statement. The legislation has been criticized by voting rights groups for being unnecessarily restrictive.
Repass said she would use the secretary of state position to ask lawmakers to reconsider the ballot limitations, saying she had heard from voters hindered by the requirements.
Schwab sidestepped the question, saying the legislation was up to policymakers.
“It’s the process,” Schwab said.
Repass said she would support an independent nonpartisan redistricting committee if voters felt the need for it.
The Kansas Legislature redrew congressional and state legislative maps in early 2022, as part of the redistricting process that occurs every 10 years. The new congressional map moved the diverse northern part of Wyandotte County out of the 3rd District into the 2nd District, and took Democrat-leaning Lawrence out of Douglas County, placing it into the heavily conservative 1st District.
Democrats and voting-rights groups objected to the new maps, saying the maps were drawn in an attempt to disenfranchise voters of color and lessen Democratic influence.
The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the legality of new congressional and legislative district maps after Wyandotte County District Court Judge Bill Klapper found the congressional map to be unconstitutional. Klapper acted in response to three lawsuits challenging the congressional map on grounds of partisan and racial gerrymandering.
Schwab said the new maps were drawn with population size in mind.
“You were either going to split Wyandotte or were going to split Johnson County. It was unconstitutional for those two because the populations were just too great,” Schwab said.
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