Kansas’ Republican gubernatorial primary appears destined for a recount. After a major delay tabulating results Tuesday night, all of the state’s 105 counties have now reported, and the race is about as close as it can get: Trump-endorsed Kris Kobach leads interim Gov. Jeff Colyer by just 191 votes out of more than 311,000 cast, good for a lead of about 0.06 percent.* Election officials will need to review an estimated 10,000 provisional ballots, but Kansas law allows any candidate to force a recount if they’re willing to pay for it in the event it fails to change the outcome.
And that’s where things get interesting. As Kansas’ current secretary of state, Kobach would be the public official tasked with overseeing the recount—a job that includes determining how much the loser has to reimburse the state if the results stand. Given the painfully obvious conflict of interest, one would be forgiven for thinking Kobach would simply recuse himself and be done with it. But anyone who assumes that does not know Kris Kobach, who led the president’s now-defunct voter fraud task force designed to prove Trump’s ludicrous claim that millions of illegal ballots cost him the 2016 popular vote.
Here’s what Kobach had to say Wednesday, as reported by the Kansas City Star:
“The recount thing is done on a county level, so the secretary of state does not actually participate directly in the recount,” Kobach said …. “The secretary of state’s office merely serves as a coordinating entity overseeing it all but not actually counting the votes,” Kobach said, contending that his role puts him at arm’s length from the actual recount. …
Kobach said the concerns about his role are “endemic to having an elected secretary of state, but of course there are safeguards.” He pointed to the role of county officials and the fact that members of both parties would have a role in a recount.
The relevant state law paints a different picture, however. If this were a general election, Kansas would pay for any recount if the margin were within a half-point. But because this is a primary, the recount-requesting challenger has to provide a bond up front to cover any associated costs. As secretary, Kobach is responsible for determining the size of that bond, effectively giving him the power to set the price on his challenger’s recount—or in the event Kobach trails after the provisionals, on his own. The law also states the county election officers supervising the recount would do so “at the direction of the secretary of state.”
Even if Kobach stays out of the nitty gritty, then, he’d still be the official signing off on how the recount is conducted. In a world where Kobach didn’t let his self-interest dictate his decision-making, it would still be impossible to avoid the appearance of a conflict in that kind of situation. But Kobach, it seems, does not care.
Correction, Aug. 8, 2018: An earlier version of this post misspelled Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer’s last name.
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