Views from Kansas: State needs election reform

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state. This editorial was written before Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded the GOP primary to Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Kansas lawmakers who care about fair and free elections will have work to do next year.

The razor-thin primary contest between Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach exposed flaws in election rules — issues that, if left unaddressed, will further erode Kansans’ confidence in the electoral system.

The most important reform is ending the absurd practice of allowing the secretary of state to appoint election commissioners in four Kansas counties: Johnson, Wyandotte, Sedgwick and Shawnee.

There is no legitimate reason the secretary of state should have this power. Every other Kansas county picks its own election supervisor: the county clerk. For no good reason, in the state’s most populated counties, the power rests in Topeka.

That has led to serious budget misunderstandings between election officers and taxpayers who foot the bill. It also has led to a whiff of political patronage: Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker, who has overseen two election night failures, was a former chairman of the Republican Party in the county.

Kobach, of course, is a Republican. It’s not unreasonable to question whether politics were involved in that pick.

Some have suggested that the county commission should appoint an election commissioner, but county commissions are political bodies, too. They are not exempt from partisan influences — or wacky decisions. The best answer may be to give the power to the county manager or executive, perhaps subject to commission approval.

Kansas City has a four-member oversight board appointed by the governor, two from each party. They pick the two election directors, a Democrat and a Republican. That may be a model for Kansas.

Other repairs will be simple. While Kobach did the right thing by promising to recuse himself from general supervision of the ballot count, the issue should have never come up. Kansas law should require candidates involved in potential recounts to step away from any involvement in the process.

Kansas lawmakers also should review the state’s rules for recounts. In primaries, a candidate requesting a recount must post a bond the cover the potential costs. In the general election, if the margin is less than one-half of 1 percent, the state pays.

Why the discrepancy? If any election is close enough for a recount, the state should pay. A fair election should not depend on a candidate’s bank account.

Other reform ideas are welcome. This much is clear: Kansans’ faith in elected government has been tested by the Kobach-Colyer primary debacle. It can be restored by getting the secretary of state’s office out of the business of controlling local elections or overseeing their own recounts.

• Originally published in The Kansas City Star

— Originally published in The Kansas City Star


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