Kobach defends voting laws in light of primary results; also defends acting as Trump surrogate

? Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Thursday that a record number of people were registered to vote in the Aug. 2 primaries, and that turnout was about normal for a presidential year primary, suggesting that is proof that the photo ID and proof of citizenship laws he championed in 2011 are not standing in the way of people voting.

In fact, he said those laws helped ensure the integrity of some particularly close races, including a Democratic primary in a House district in Wichita that was decided by a single vote.

“Every time that happens, I’m particularly thankful that we have photo ID and we have proof of citizenship, because when you have a call that’s that close, the ref can have some certainty that we got it right,” Kobach said. “We know there weren’t any mistaken votes or votes that were cast illegitimately.”

Kobach made those remarks as he, Gov. Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt met as the State Board of Canvassers to certify the results of the Aug. 2 primaries.

photo by: Peter Hancock

Gov. Sam Brownback, left, Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Attorney General Derek Schmidt meet Thursday as the State Board of Canvassers to certify official results of the Aug. 2 primary elections.

The meeting was merely an administrative act, required by law before the state declares the final, official vote tallies. In the weeks since the primary, each county had its own board of canvassers sift through the results, adding in provisional ballots that were cast on Election Day, and sending their tallies to the secretary of state’s office.

No candidates filed objections to the county canvasses, and so the state board did not have to rule on any contested races.

Going into Election Day, however, there were serious questions about how the proof of citizenship law could affect the primaries because of a last-minute flurry of legal actions that ultimately prevented the state from enforcing that law on voters who had registered under a federal program at motor vehicle offices.

Kobach’s office had estimated that 17,500 people were made eligible to vote because of those judicial orders. But in the end, he said, only 73 of those people actually cast ballots.

But Kansas Democratic Party executive director Kerry Gooch challenged Kobach’s claims about the impact of the voting laws.

“What about the thousands of voters that are in suspense that showed up to the polls that weren’t allowed to vote?” he asked. “I think if we, as Kansans, are restricting any Kansan’s right to have access to vote, then the law is a problem.”

The proof of citizenship law is still under challenge in both state and federal courts.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver is expected to rule soon on Kobach’s motion to lift an injunction handed down by a federal district court that resulted in those 17,500 “motor voter” applicants being added to the voting rolls for the primary, despite the fact that they had not provided proof of U.S. citizenship.

And a state judge in Shawnee County will hear arguments later this month in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to block Kobach from enforcing a new regulation that would create a dual registration system, allowing those motor voter registrants to vote only in federal races.

photo by: Peter Hancock

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has been serving as a surrogate for Republican Donald Trump's presidential campaign, frequently speaking on Trump's behalf in cable TV news programs. Kobach says that should not raise questions about his objectivity in supervising elections in which Trump's name will be on the ballot.

Meanwhile, Kobach, who is the state’s chief election officer, has stirred controversy recently on another front by appearing repeatedly on cable TV news programs this election cycle, speaking as an official surrogate for Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump’s campaign, especially when discussing Trump’s positions on immigration issues.

The most recent of those appearances happened Wednesday when Kobach appeared on a CNN program discussing Trump’s meeting that day with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and his speech later in the day in Arizona that focused on immigration policy.

“I think it’s highly inappropriate for the chief election official to be making endorsements of people that are on the ballot,” Gooch said. “And he’s not just doing it for the federal races. He’s going to be endorsing people in state races too.”

Gooch said it was reminiscent of the 2000 presidential race between Republican George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore. That race came down to contested results in Florida, whose secretary of state at the time, Katherine Harris, was also a state co-chair of the Bush campaign.

“I think that there are some similarities,” Gooch said. “We haven’t gotten to that point yet, but I think it’s something we should all continue to watch because we could end up in a similar situation.”

Kobach, however, defended his role in the Trump campaign, which also includes advising the campaign on immigration issues.

“In Kansas, and in most states, the secretary of state is an elected position, so the position is itself partisan,” Kobach said. “And in Kansas, the county election officials, in all but four counties, are the elected county clerks. So indeed in that situation you have a county clerk who is himself or herself a candidate for election on the ballot.”

In the state’s four largest counties — Sedgwick, Johnson Wyandotte and Shawnee — an election commissioner is appointed directly by the secretary of state

“It raises the old question,” he continued. “Should a secretary of state say nothing about the partisan politics going on around him or her? I’ve said our system holds secretaries of state accountable. If anyone thought that in any way our elections were not being managed properly, or there were some sort of bias, then absolutely that would be inappropriate for a secretary of state.”

“But for a secretary of state to express positions, in particular ones where I might have some expertise outside of my official capacity, I think that’s perfectly fine,” Kobach said.