Secretary of State’s office providing information to attorney general about possible election crime regarding contested nominations

photo by: Associated Press

In this Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, photo, Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab answers questions during an interview with The Associated Press at his office in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Story updated at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 6:

The Kansas Secretary of State’s office has confirmed it is providing information to the Kansas Attorney General about a possible election crime involving a Republican strategist who claims to be the chair of Kansas’ No Labels party.

As the Journal-World reported Wednesday, the Kansas Secretary of State’s office invalidated two No Labels party nominations for a pair of state Senate seats after questions emerged regarding their authenticity.

Specifically, the Secretary of State’s office said that Kris Van Meteren — owner of a Johnson County firm that provides campaign materials to Republicans and other conservatives — had misidentified himself as the chair of the No Labels party in Kansas.

On Thursday, a spokesperson with the Secretary of State’s office told the Journal-World that information was being provided to the Kansas Attorney General’s office, which is empowered to prosecute election fraud matters.

When asked by the Journal-World whether the Secretary of State’s office intended to forward information to the Attorney General’s office for possible investigation, spokesperson Whitney Tempel said: “Yes, we remain in communication with the AG regarding any election crime.”

The Secretary of State’s office did not say that it has made a specific finding that an election crime has been committed. When asked by the Journal-World whether the office had reason to believe that Van Meteren acted fraudulently by submitting nomination paperwork purporting to be the chairman of the No Labels Kansas party, Tempel referred the Journal-World to two letters the Secretary of State’s office issued on Wednesday that invalidated the nominations.

Those letters stopped short of accusing Van Meteren of a crime, but rather said the office had determined that Van Meteren is not the chairman of the No Labels party in Kansas.

Van Meteren on Wednesday, in an email sent to the Secretary of State’s office and shared with multiple members of the media, challenged the Secretary of State to show that he is not the valid chair of the No Labels party in Kansas.

On Thursday Van Meteren — who owns and operates The Singularis Group in Olathe — said the state law involving minor political parties in Kansas is “murky and potentially contradictory with other portions of Kansas law.” But Van Meteren said he did take proper steps to organize and chair a political party in the state.

“I’m convinced, when the facts and law are all reviewed by an unbiased legal authority, I will be found to be in the right and the Secretary of State will have been found, once again, to have engaged in politically motivated election interference,” Van Meteren said via email.

The Journal-World also has reached out to Attorney General Kris Kobach’s office for comment on whether his office intends to open an investigation on the matter, but as of 6 p.m. on Thursday had not received a response.

Van Meteren earlier this month filed a nomination document that placed longtime Lawrence lawmaker Marci Francisco on the ballot as a No Labels candidate for Kansas Senate District No. 2. Francisco currently holds that Senate district seat as a Democrat and is seeking reelection as a Democrat.

As the Journal-World reported on Tuesday, Francisco said she never sought the nomination from the No Labels party, and never authorized anyone to file paperwork saying she would serve as a candidate for the party.

Additionally, Van Meteren also filed a nomination document for Echo Van Meteren to be the No Labels nominee for Kansas Senate District No. 5. Echo Van Meteren is the wife of Kris Van Meteren. Echo Van Meteren also is a candidate in the Republican primary for Senate District No. 5, where she is facing a Republican challenger.

Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab invalidated both of those nominations on Wednesday. In a letter to both candidates, Schwab said his office had determined that Glenda Reynolds is the current chairperson of the No Labels party in Kansas, and as such the nomination forms filed by Kris Van Meteren were not valid under state law.

Francisco has said she wants Kobach — a Douglas County Republican who has gained a national reputation as a prosecutor of election law violations — to investigate the matter involving Van Meteren.

Francisco on Wednesday said that when she originally thought that Van Meteren was the valid chair of No Labels Kansas, she called the situation “concerning.”

Now that the Secretary of State’s office has said Van Meteren is not the valid chair of the party, her concern is heightened.

“I think it is more shady than we thought,” Francisco told the Journal-World on Wednesday.

In a press release on Thursday, Francisco went a bit further, saying the matter “appears to be the work of a bad actor seeking to create discord among Kansas Democrats, especially here in Lawrence.”

While Francisco did not speculate on whether Van Meteren had acted illegally in making the contested nomination, she said the matter deserves investigation.

Francisco’s opponent in the August Democratic primary, Rep. Christina Haswood, also is expressing concerns about the matter, and said she supported a criminal investigation being opened.

“This left a very, very bad taste in everyone’s mouth that this is not a fair and equitable process,” Haswood said in an interview with the Journal-World on Thursday.

The two lawmakers said that in addition to a legal investigation, the incident should spark a legislative review of the laws and regulations governing the smaller political parties and their candidates.

While the matter of whether Francisco will appear on the November ballot as a No Labels candidate has been resolved — she won’t appear on the ballot as a No Labels candidate, but will be on the August ballot as a Democratic candidate — many questions remain about what the law allows in the future.

One of the biggest questions is whether Kansas law allows an individual to be named a nominee of a political party against their wishes. On Thursday, the spokesperson with the Secretary of State’s office said the answer is still unknown, despite the office researching the matter.

“The law is unclear,” Tempel, the Secretary of State’s spokesperson, said via email when asked for an update on what the agency had found in researching the issue.

Further, the law is unclear on what ability a person would have to remove their name from a general election ballot, if they were nominated for a position they did not seek nor want, Tempel said.

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew, who oversees elections locally, said his understanding of the law is that it is difficult for an individual to have their name removed from a general election ballot. He said state law generally requires a nominee to have either died, moved out of the district they are seeking to serve or attest that they have a health condition that won’t allow them to serve.

Haswood on Thursday said Kansas law shouldn’t put anyone in the position that Francisco was put in.

“I was surprised. I think the entire state was surprised that this was a possibility to be legal,” Haswood said. “No one deserved to have that happen without their consent.”

She said it is possible that legislative fixes to the law could be discussed as soon as the special session that is set for later this month in Topeka. But she said it is more likely to be taken up during the next regular session.

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