Topeka Republican secretary of state nominee Kris Kobach said Saturday night that Kansas should attack potential election fraud even if it’s not a big problem, while Democratic incumbent Chris Biggs accused the GOP challenger of trying to panic voters.
Kobach and Biggs spent much of their first debate arguing about the threat posed by election fraud, and whether it justifies new laws, such as a measure Kobach advocates to require voters to show photo identification at the polls. They also sparred over Kobach’s work on immigration issues in other states and whether he’d be a full-time secretary of state.
Biggs hopes voters keep him in office after he was appointed earlier this year to fill a vacancy. Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor, is a former state GOP chairman who helped draft Arizona’s new law on immigration.
They debated at the studios of KTWU, the public television station in Topeka, in front of an audience of about two dozen people. The program will be broadcast Oct. 20.
Kobach has made combatting election fraud a major issue of his campaign, while Biggs contends Kobach is exaggerating the problem.
The secretary of state’s office has said it’s received about three dozen reports of alleged election irregularities since 1998, including rare occasions of double voting and more frequent questions of whether nursing home administrators have filled in ballots for elderly residents. Kobach noted after the debate that many of the reports involved multiple ballots.
Kobach said even if irregularities are rare, the state should take reasonable precautions.
“Now, let’s just imagine that Mr. Biggs’ universe were the correct one and that voter fraud were not a significant reality in Kansas,” Kobach said. “That’s like saying, ‘Well, I live in a neighborhood, and we haven’t had any thefts for the past five years, so, you know what? It’s not a problem. I’m going to leave my doors unlocked at night. I’m going to leave the car in the driveway and leave the keys in the car.”’
Biggs said many of the allegations Kobach cites didn’t come with enough evidence to result in a prosecution.
The incumbent said after the debate that imposing new rules could decrease turnout among seniors or disabled voters. Kobach also advocates requiring people who register to vote for the first time to show proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate.
“He’s misrepresenting the facts,” Biggs said during the debate. “It’s an appeal very much like yelling fire in a crowded theater, and the hope is that people will run to the polls, and the concern is that good public policy gets trampled in the process.”
Biggs has held the job since March, named by Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson to replace Ron Thornburgh, a four-term Republican who resigned to take a private-sector job. A Democrat had last held the office in 1951.
Libertarian candidate Phillip Horatio Lucas, of El Dorado, and Reform Party nominee Derek Langseth, of Valley Center, also are on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, but they did not participate in Saturday’s debate.
Biggs attacked Kobach over his work outside Kansas on immigration, advising city officials and state legislators across the nation about cracking down on illegal immigration.
Kobach has said if he’s elected, he’ll do immigration work only in his spare time after working from 40 hours to 50 hours a week as secretary of state.
Biggs said Kobach would be only a part-time secretary of state.
“I’m committed to doing this job,” Biggs said. “The focus should be on doing the business of the office of the secretary of state.”
Kobach responded to Biggs’ criticism by noting that he’s a musician. Biggs plays banjo and guitar and has performed at music festivals.
“If I choose to defend American sovereignty rather than play the banjo in my spare time, I think that’s my prerogative,” Kobach said.