The Slatest

Kris Kobach Grudgingly Recuses Himself After Kansas Secretary of State Office Posts Mistaken GOP Primary Vote Tally

Republican primary candidate for Governor Kris Kobach speaks to supporters on election night in Topeka, Kansas.
Republican primary candidate for Governor Kris Kobach, who also happens to the the state secretary of state in charge of the election he’s running in. Steve Pope/Getty Images

Update, 10:45 p.m.: The Washington Post is reporting Kris Kobach will recuse himself from his oversight role as secretary of state of the closely contested GOP primary he is a candidate in. Kobach had initially resisted calls to step aside, saying his role in the process was merely “symbolic.” His opponent Gov. Jeff Colyer called on Kobach to step down in a letter Thursday.

Original Post: The winner of the Republican primary in the Kansas gubernatorial race isn’t any clearer two days after the vote, as a mistake in reporting one county’s vote total by the secretary of state’s office halved the already slim lead of challenger Kris Kobach over interim Gov. Jeff Colyer to 91 votes from 311,000 cast. Adding to the mayhem of the razor thin primary that appears destined for a recount, and likely a court battle, is the fact that the Kansas secretary of state overseeing the process also happens to be the leading candidate, Kris Kobach. Kobach, of course, made a national name for himself by actively attempting to suppress voter turnout locally in Kansas, catching the eye of one Donald Trump who then tasked Kobach with heading his voter fraud task force to investigate the fictitious claim that millions of noncitizens voted in the last election. The commission under Kobach’s leadership quickly crashed and burned under the weight of its own bad faith.

Adding to the whiff of bad faith that trails Kansas secretary of state is the fact that Kobach has refused to recuse himself from his role as secretary of state during the next phase of vote tally, which includes counting some 10,000 absentee and provisional votes and a likely recount. The clear conflict of interest came under even more scrutiny Thursday when discrepancies were reported in Thomas County between the county clerk’s tally of 522 votes for Colyer and the 422 votes the secretary of state’s office published. The mistake was caught and corrected by the secretary of state’s routine verification process, according to the state director of elections, but the error made it even more abundantly clear that Kobach’s refusal to step aside is laughably improper. Kobach’s insistence that he oversee the vote count of his own election is like Donald Trump Jr. demanding he be allowed to oversee the Russia investigation. Another county, Haskell County, confirmed to the Kansas City Star that its published totals were also incomplete with Kobach picking up 30 more votes than Colyer in the final tally.

The Colyer campaign sent a letter Thursday to the Kobach in his capacity as secretary of state requesting he step aside and allow the state attorney general to oversee the remainder of the count. “It has come to my attention that your office is giving advice to county election officials—as recently as a conference call yesterday—and you are making public statements on national television which are inconsistent with Kansas law and may serve to suppress the vote in the ongoing primary election process,” Colyer said in the letter. “I believe that the designation of the Attorney General as a neutral party to advise county election officials on these matters will help ensure the confidence of the voting public in the outcome of the primary election. Inasmuch as you are a licensed attorney, I also want you to be comfortable that your role is consistent with Kansas Rule of Professional Responsibility 1.7(a)(2), which prohibits an attorney from giving advice in a matter in which they are personally interested.”

According to state elections director, new updated totals will be posted Friday that will include mail-in ballots, which will likely rejigger the race once again. In a final credibility-draining flourish Thursday, the Kansas City Star reported that “in a statement to The Star on the same day that the Thomas County votes were discovered, Kobach suggested that noncitizens could have voted in the primary election.”