With 15 years in the Kansas House of Representatives, Scott Schwab says he is the most qualified to help local election officials ensure trust in the system.
Schwab is one of five Republicans running for the nomination for Kansas secretary of state, the office held by Kris Kobach, who is running for governor.
He lists his experience in the House including committee seats on Commerce and Labor, Appropriations, Taxation, Insurance and Finance, and Ethics, but especially his four years as chair of the elections committee and speaker pro tem.
The Great Bend native is a graduate of Fort Hays State University and has worked as a marketing consultant.
In 2016, Schwab’s 10-year-old son, Caleb, was killed in an accident on the Verruckt water slide at Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City that made national headlines. The indictment of several of the park’s employees earlier this year has given his family’s life a surreal quality, he said, but he and his three children counter that by spending time together as a family.
Schwab was in Hays on Thursday for a meet and greet with supporters at Professor’s Sandwich Shop, 521 E. 11th, and spoke with The Hays Daily News about his campaign for secretary of state. His answers are edited for clarity.
Why do you want to be secretary of state?
With the open seat for secretary of state, I'm the only one who could get in this race who kind of knows what all those voting law changes were because I was actually in the committee. I know why it was a bipartisan bill because I was the one dealing with it in conference.
So what I want to do is change no more laws, unless the court asks us to or the clerks need some cleanup language. We're not going to do any policy changes. We just want to go to 105 county clerks and say, "Here's the legislative intent, what do you need from the office so you can execute on an election at a consistent level and a high level?" So it doesn't matter if it's Ness County or Ellis County, they interpret what's a valid ballot and not a valid ballot and a provisional ballot all the same.
That way when you get that election result in August or November you trust it. You can just trust your result, which is more important now than ever because when we have all these rumors of Russian hacking and interference and foreign influence in elections, it's all that much more important that we trust the results of our elections. Our dollars are based on faith in government. If you don't have faith in government, it hurts us economically, which is probably what Russia is hoping for.
So in Kansas, we say you're not going to do that here. You're going to trust results, you're going to trust the results your county clerk gives you because we're going to give them the tools to do it. We've got great county clerks here across the state. We've visited with almost more than half of them, and every one of them believes in the integrity of the election. They just want resources.
Whether you like Kris Kobach or not, he's been distracted with lawsuits, running for governor, he was an early influencer of the Trump administration, and those just distract from what you need to do to help those county officials.
So what we just want to do is be the secretary for the state of Kansas and help those county election officials execute.
The other thing, and obviously the larger side, is the business side. Unisys was awarded the contract to update all state systems for security and efficiency purposes. We won't start in the Secretary of State's office.
We were going to start a nonprofit in the name of our son, but before we could even file for nonprofit status with the feds, I've got to create an entity with the Secretary of State's office. Or if I'm a roofer and I go to the Department of Labor, I rekey everything I just keyed in. If I'm a restaurant I"m going to the dept of agriculture and doing it a third time. So what we want to do is just create an online profile so they can tap the secretary of state's server and get the information they need to populate what they need. But it's at a protected hub that's easy to defend against hackers. Eventually (we'll) get local units of government to use the system for permits and whatnot, and you drive data security to Topeka, because if they can hack Equifax, they can hack Nemaha County. So what we want to make sure is we drive security so that small business and nonprofits know that their tax IDs are protected. We can do that within the system of resources without having to increase fees or taking money from the state general fund
In your opinion what could Kobach have done differently to have won the lawsuit with the ACLU, or what would you have done?
I don't know because I'm not an attorney. I would have given it to the attorney general. Technically there were suing Kris Kobach, so I don't think he should represent himself. That's my opinion. Obviously, Derek Schmidt is going to be handling the appeal form here. I'm glad it's being appealed because I think there are some problems with that opinion as it relates to what we can do to verify a true elector. I don't want that opinion to take tools away from the county clerks that they need to verify an election and an elector. So to get the appellate courts judicial review I think is imperative to make sure what we can and cannot do. To just say you can't check if someone is a legal citizen or not ... in the constitution of both the United States and the state of Kansas says we can and have to, it's conflicting. The question is, when do we go too far, when does it become burdensome? We just need to know that balance mark, and as secretary of state, we want to make sure we are helping the county clerks execute at that level of what the court would want. I think the appellate court will allow us some type of verification, I just don't know what that would be. We just need to find out from the appellate court or from the U.S. Supreme Court, and then we'll do what the court wants us to do
Do you think in general the voter ID law is pretty sound?
I think there's a reason (state Sen.) Laura Kelly (D-Greenwood) voted for it. It was sound law. We just need to make sure we're executing on it, and again Kris was distracted with the lawsuit. It makes it harder to execute on the law when you are being sued.
Obviously, it can't be executed at all; there's a stay on it completely until it goes through the appellate process. But I think the appellate court will eventually give us some standards that we can use to make sure that we are verifying the true electors without it being a burden on the voters.
Ellis County is one that will be looking at upgrading their election machines next year. Those are huge cost for counties ...
They are and there's some (Help America Vote Act) money left over that can help those counties, and some of the standards that are in place that I think we would probably continue is we need to use a paper trail, go back to some type of paper ballot. You could still have electronic verification and imaging, but the voters should be able to see a piece of paper that they voted on and it's got to stay off an intranet and the internet so it's not hackable. Lyons County has moved to that, Johnson County has moved to that, a lot of counties are moving to that.
We're taking the old machines and getting the certificate of destruction and making sure they're gone. That's where the population wants us to go is back to paper. We can still have the speed to get results in quicker because it's digitally counted, but you still have that paper backup. You cannot hack a piece of paper digitally. So it just gets that trusted result that voters want.
We don't want to complicate this thing. We just want to be the secretary for the state of Kansas, help those county clerks and make sure when you're doing a new business filing or renewing a business filing, it's just easy. We want to be easy to deal with state government, especially your first touch, which would be the Secretary of State's office.
As far as security, there is significant evidence that there was some interference, whether it was the Russians or whoever ...
Yeah, but it wasn't here. They did try to ... we've had some people try to get our servers and stuff like that, but it didn't affect our elections. Our results were true and just, but that doesn't mean we just sit back and say we accept where we're at. They're going to keep trying to use that as an avenue to attack us digitally and whatnot, so we just need to make sure we're taking steps to make sure we trust it. Eventually, this tactic will someday go away, but it's the one that folks are using today.
Voter ID actually stopped most of the voter fraud. I could say I'm anybody and go and vote 10 years ago, and if they didn't vote in a local election, I could go from precinct to precinct to precinct and vote in as many as I wanted, except if that person showed up and they said, "Well I didn't vote." Well now with voter ID you need to verify you are that person, it just shut it down. When we did have voter anomalies it was in local elections, but that's all gone away.
So do you think the claims that there were up to 35,000 people voting fraudulently was valid?
I don't know if the number is valid, but when I sat on the committee, we had people saying "I tried to vote and someone voted for me. I never voted school board election but my sister-in-law was running so she asked me to go vote and when I went to do it somebody voted at 7 o'clock in the morning." In the bigger communities, they have no idea really who that person is. Even if you did know that's not that person, you could not legally stop them if they said they were that person. There's nothing they could do. So the voter ID stopped it. It's sort of like on I-70. If there's no radar guns, you really don't know how many people are truly speeding. If we're not checking IDs, we don't know who's lying. Once you see the cop with a radar gun, suddenly no one is speeding. There's an accountability. The voter ID gave us accountability, and now that it's been there for almost eight years we've had little to no complaints on the voter ID portion.