Kansans have two chances to vote on Kris Kobach next month — on Kobach himself in the gubernatorial race, and on his legacy in the Secretary of State (SOS) race. Kobach’s tenure as SOS has been marred with mismanagement: failures to update the SOS website, shortfalls in overseeing election technology and officials, tens of thousands of Kansans unable to navigate the bureaucratic red tape that Kobach created in the voter registration process, and failed and costly court battles. Kansans must choose how to move that office forward.
Polling shows that the SOS race is competitive. The Democrat, Brian “BAM” McClendon, is running an actual campaign, something that Kansas Democrats do not always do. McClendon is a former Google and Uber executive who has returned to Kansas, but grew up here, graduated from KU, and co-founded the nonprofit KSVotes.org to promote online voter registration. This is his first run for office.
The Republican, Scott Schwab, should normally be favored in a down-ballot race like this simply by being a Republican in Kansas, but has had a muted campaign. A native Kansan who works in healthcare sales, Schwab has served in the state legislature from Johnson County for 13 years and, most relevant, formerly chaired the House Elections Committee. His legislative voting record easily puts him in the Brownback-Kobach mold of Republicans.
What does a secretary of state do? Kobach has been unusually visible for the office, becoming a national media darling on immigration and taking side jobs writing political columns and consulting for other states on immigration. But the main duties of the job include election administration, voter registration, registering businesses, and publishing legal and informational documents. It is a technical and bureaucratic position.
Neither candidate possesses Kobach’s flamboyant personality, but there are real issues in this race beyond style. Their answers to July 14 questionnaires in the Topeka Capital-Journal show some differences.
Schwab frames his candidacy around continuing Kobach’s policies like the proof of citizenship regulation — since ruled unconstitutional — and voter ID. He also shares Kobach’s belief that voter fraud from internal and external threats is a serious concern in Kansas. And his response to increasing voter participation indicates that he does not see that as a main responsibility of the SOS, but rather something that campaigns and local election officials should emphasize.
McClendon shares the concern for cyber security and electoral integrity, but does not share Kobach’s dubious belief that undocumented immigrants are a massive voter fraud threat in Kansas. Nor does he share Kobach and Schwab’s support for proof of citizenship regulations. He endorses voter ID laws that ensure citizen access to proof of identification. McClendon also views encouraging voter participation as more central to the SOS role than Schwab.
Importantly, Kansans may not realize that under Kobach’s Crosscheck system, they are footing the bill to allegedly quality check voter rolls in dozens of other states. Yes, readers, you are paying to vet voter rolls in states like Mississippi and Alabama. Independent studies have found Crosscheck to have major accuracy issues, leading several states to abandon it recently. Schwab supports continuing Crosscheck as is, but McClendon is more skeptical of it.
Kansans should understand that they are voting on Kobach’s policy legacy in the SOS race. Down-ballot races matter for how tax dollars are spent and the quality of services Kansans receive. The next SOS might not share Kobach’s eccentric flair, but voters can choose to continue Kobach’s policies or vote for change. Learn more about the candidates and make informed choices.
Patrick. R. Miller is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas.