Sen. Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican, invited election deniers to spread fears about the integrity of Kansas elections during a two-day hearing. Groups that promote voting rights weren’t allowed to participate. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Mary Lou Davis was disappointed and frustrated Thursday by a legislative committee’s promotion of election conspiracy theories.
If Davis, the president of the League of Women Voters of Topeka and Shawnee County, had been allowed to testify at the one-sided hearing, this is what she would have told lawmakers: “Voter registration is vital to democracy, and we’ll continue to work toward that effort.”
As chairman of the Special Committee on Elections, Republican Sen. Mike Thompson scheduled a two-day debauchery of fearmongering about advanced ballots, drop boxes, and voter registration efforts. No local election official was invited to participate. Groups like the League of Women Voters of Kansas asked to appear before the committee but were denied access to the public stage. Instead, they could submit written statements that appear on the Legislature’s website.
Thompson, of Shawnee, said elections are “an emotional topic,” and that it was important to ensure that Kansas elections are as secure as possible.
“To continue to lead in this area requires vigilance,” Thompson said. “We don’t want to be a trainwreck on national TV like some other states.”
Republican Secretary of State Scott Schwab, in a letter to the committee, said Kansas elections are fair, safe, secure and above reproach.
“We welcome this opportunity to clear up any lingering misconceptions regarding Kansas election systems and processes as the state prepares for an active voting season in 2024,” Schwab wrote.
Schwab’s staff told lawmakers about the security of Kansas elections during Thursday’s hearing, but other testimony featured a conspiracy about a supposedly “secret” agreement by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to send voter registration forms to people who receive state services. The agreement actually brought Kansas into compliance with a 30-year-old federal law and avoided a lawsuit.
The committee scheduled testimony for Friday from the Liberty Lions League, which has a history of spreading discredited theories about voter fraud. Former Rep. Keith Esau planned to testify in favor of ending the three-day grace period for accepting advanced ballots that are postmarked by Election Day.
Davis Hammet, executive director of Loud Light, which promotes civic engagement, said Thompson was exploiting the committee process in order to mislead legislators and legitimatize deceptive theories.
“Instead of legislators hearing from election administrators and experts, Chairman Senator Thompson chose to turn the Statehouse into an invite-only stage for election conspiracies,” Hammet said. “The unchecked platform for misinformation is a danger to our democracy and a disservice to the people of Kansas.”
Thompson’s agenda originally included testimony from Tore Maras, a former secretary of state candidate in Ohio who espoused QAnon conspiracy theories. She was scratched from the lineup.
Kansas Reflector obtained copies of recent comments Maras made in a chat group with Kansas Republicans on Telegram, a far-right social media platform. Maras complained about Thompson’s “sham hearing.”
“It is not a hearing,” Maras wrote. “It is a way that these senators that allowed you to have a hearing make money. It’s invitation only so it’s not to help you. It’s to help them line their pockets.”
MissKSpatriot, a moniker used by Melissa Leavitt, who challenged the results of the August 2022 statewide vote on abortion, said Thompson “stuck his neck out for the hearing.”
“I don’t really think bashing him is the right thing,” she wrote, “but clearly everyone is mad.”
Leavitt said Republican leadership should have invited House Minority Leader Vic Miller to participate in the hearing.
Miller, a Topeka Democrat, issued a statement saying it was “disgusting” to see Republican legislators attack voting rights and attempt to dismantle election systems. The committee should be renamed as the Special Committee on Election Conspiracies, Miller said.
“It was another shining example of vocal loonies screaming about conspiracy theories, without any evidence, and to the detriment of all Kansans,” Miller said. “They behave like sore losers even though they win the majority of elections in Kansas. Their crying is pathetic. It’s time to grow up.”
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