Both nearly two-term Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and the Republican running to follow him in that job have mistakenly described ways to register to vote.
At a Topeka Credit Union-hosted candidate forum Oct. 4, Secretary of State hopeful State Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, said a mobile device user can download the app iKan, and “you can register to vote there,” he said. The app exists and has information pertaining to vehicle registration and other data, but it does not have capabilities for voter registration.
On Friday afternoon, Kobach was in South Hutchinson, and The Hutchinson News asked him why his office’s website links for voters have not been updated for mobile devices. Kobach said they have established such a mobile-friendly method.
“We have an app, a ‘Vote Kansas’ app, that is set up for the mobile devices. You should be able to find it in your app store. I believe the title is ‘Vote Kansas.’ We created a separate platform,” he said.
“I’m almost positive,” Kobach continued, “that includes voter registration and finding your polling place.”
Efforts to find the app, however, were not successful even when trying different spelling variations.
“Kris Kobach does not understand after eight years that online voter registration is currently a PC (personal computer)-only experience, that it doesn’t work on the mobile phones. How can that be?” asked Brian “BAM” McClendon, the Democratic nominee for Secretary of State and a former Google executive.
“Honestly, this is pretty shocking,” McClendon said in a phone interview Saturday, that neither Kobach nor Schwab seems to understand how any of this works, he said.
Rob Hodgkinson, a Stilwell Libertarian also running for Secretary of State, was not part of the Oct. 4 candidate forum, but he, like McClendon, has criticized Kobach’s Secretary of State website for not being user-friendly.
McClendon views it as discouraging voter participation.
Last year, Lawrence resident McClendon helped found Blueprint Kansas Inc., a nonpartisan non-profit 501(c)3, that aims to reach underrepresented populations and encourage them to participate in voting. McClendon is chairman and the other officers are vice chairman Patrick Miller, an assistant professor in the University of Kansas’ Department of Political Science, and secretary/treasurer Jameson Shew, Douglas County Clerk and a Democrat. Kate Davis, Wichita, is the executive director and only full-time employee. None of the three officers received compensation from Blueprint Kansas, according to the 990 form for 2017 filed with the IRS.
The centerpiece for Blueprint Kansas became KSVotes.org, offering online voter registration beginning in October 2017. Designed for mobile devices, it has processed 24,287 voter registrations over the last year.
From Sept. 1 to Oct. 16, traffic on KSVotes.org was 65,444 and voter registrations processed during that month and a half totaled 15,075, including 288 voter registrations in Reno County.
The site was revised in late summer so advance ballot requests can be handled entirely online through KSVotes.org. By comparison, the Secretary of State’s website requires the computer user to have access to a printer to obtain the paper form, and an envelope and stamp to mail it to the county election officer.
As of last week, the advance ballot applications processed through KSVotes.org numbered 18,545.
The Hutchinson News filed a Kansas Open Records Act request last week for the number of page views and the number of voter registrations submitted using the link that is on the Secretary of State’s website for voter registration, from Sept. 1 through Oct. 16.
“I have contacted our IT staff and am told that we do not track the information you are seeking,” the Secretary of State’s Senior Counsel Sue Becker responded.
The Hutchinson News was unable to reach Schwab regarding his comment about iKan.
“It was really important to us that it works well for the county clerks,” KSVotes.org’s Davis said of the second version of the site that rolled out in September. Clerks were given an early look.
“Some of them gave us really good suggestions that would make their lives easier,” Davis said.
Reno County Deputy Election Officer Jenna Fager said she didn’t get advance contact but emails started arriving with the advance ballot request forms completed and sent by voters.
Part of Davis’ job is to check voter registrations processed through KSVotes.org with the state’s voter registration data to ensure the voter is indeed on the rolls. “I spend a lot of time talking to clerks, making sure they get forms,” Davis said, and she also travels around the state.
“Generally, the feedback is positive,” Davis said, partly because the information arriving through KSVotes.org is typed, not handwritten, she said.
“So far, it’s been a really effective way for most people to register or request an advance ballot by mail,” Fager said.