Gov. Jeff Colyer demanded that Secretary of State Kris Kobach set aside his duties as election officer Thursday and raised the specter of a lawsuit in their fight for the GOP nomination for governor.
Colyer accused Kobach’s office of giving errant advice to counties on how to handle advance ballots that are still in the mail and demanded that provisional ballots be counted if voters were given bad instructions.
He said Attorney General Derek Schmidt should oversee the process as a neutral party.
“You are making public statements on national television which are inconsistent with Kansas law and may serve to suppress the vote in the ongoing Kansas primary election process,” Colyer said in a letter to Kobach.
According to The Associated Press, while facing questions from CNN host Chris Cuomo on Thursday evening, Kobach said Colyer wants him to remove himself from further ballot counting, “So I will.”
Schmidt would join Kobach and Colyer in affirming the winner of the race as they are the three members of the state board of canvassers.
“Kansans have a heightened focus on the integrity and accuracy of the process of finalizing the vote counts from Tuesday’s primary election,” Schmidt said. “It is vital that Kansans have full confidence that all lawful votes are accurately counted, and that only lawful votes are counted.”
Law allows counties to continue counting advance ballots they receive by mail through Friday, as long as they were postmarked no later than Tuesday, but Colyer said statements from Kobach’s office suggest no more mailed ballots will be counted. Colyer also said Kobach’s office advised counties not to count any ballots if the postmark is unreadable.
The governor’s campaign announced it was setting up a “voting integrity hotline” — a possible allusion to Kobach’s efforts to unearth fraud as the leader of President Donald Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity — after receiving “countless reports” of voting irregularities.
For instance, the governor said, one of his staff members was among unaffiliated voters who were given provisional ballots instead of being provided with paperwork to register as Republicans.
“As a consequence, such provisional ballots cast in the primary election must be construed as evidence of voter intent and must be counted,” Colyer said.
Colyer said the circumstances increase the likelihood of a recount “or even the possibility of litigation.” He asked that all election materials be preserved indefinitely and reminded Kobach that as an attorney, the rules of professional responsibility prohibit him from giving advice on a matter in which he is personally interested.
After Tuesday’s unofficial results, Kobach’s lead over Colyer was fewer than 200 votes. The winner will face state Sen. Laura Kelly, a Democrat from Topeka, and independent Greg Orman in November.
“As this process plays out, we’re reminded that every vote counts, not just those of Republicans or Democrats,” Orman said. “Through their closed taxpayer-funded primaries on Tuesday, both parties were able to exclude the votes of more than 550,000 Kansans who are unaffiliated with either party. Voting in Kansas and the rest of the nation shouldn’t be a partisan process, and we’re now seeing exactly why it doesn’t serve the best interests of the people.”
Johanna Warshaw, a spokeswoman for Kelly, said the senator would recuse herself if she were in Kobach’s position.
“It is very clear that voters are sharply divided,” Warshaw said, “but what’s also clear is that both Jeff Colyer or Kris Kobach represent another four years of the failed policies of (former Gov.) Sam Brownback.”