Saturday, August 18News That Matters

Governor Calls for Kobach Recusal as Kansas Counts Votes


Governor Calls for Kobach Recusal as Kansas Counts Votes

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Gov. Jeff Colyer, announcing the creation of a “voting integrity hotline” and suggesting there had been problems on Election Day.CreditChris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal, via Associated Press

The Republican primary for governor in Kansas, much too close to call with just 191 votes separating Gov. Jeff Colyer from Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach entering Thursday, took a contentious turn as Mr. Colyer called on his opponent to recuse himself from providing advice to county election officials.

Mr. Colyer said some clerks had been provided incorrect information about which ballots to count, and he urged Mr. Kobach, who oversees the state’s elections in his role as secretary of state, to appoint the state attorney general to handle future questions from local election workers.

“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 Kansas primary election process,” Mr. Colyer wrote in a letter.

That sour letter, sent just a day after both candidates called for Republican unity, underscored longstanding divisions within the state party and the extreme closeness of a nationally watched race in which thousands of votes have not yet been recorded. The extended counting process, which will last at least into next week and perhaps much longer, gives the already hopeful Democratic and independent candidates a chance to campaign while the Republicans remain mired in a primary.

Earlier Thursday, discrepancies emerged between the vote totals reported by Mr. Kobach’s office and the numbers posted on at least three county election websites. And Mr. Colyer was upset by Mr. Kobach’s statement on Fox News a day earlier that mail-in ballots had already been counted. (Though many mailed ballots were reported with the Election Day results, Kansas law allows ballots postmarked by Tuesday to count as long as they are received by Friday.)

Vote totals have already shifted, and will continue to do so. In rural Thomas County, in northwestern Kansas, the state had recorded 422 votes for Mr. Colyer when he had actually received 522. The change meant that Mr. Colyer in fact carried Thomas County, where Mr. Kobach received 466 votes, and it halved Mr. Kobach’s statewide lead.

Shelly Harms, the elected clerk of Thomas County, said in a phone interview that her office reported correct data to the state and then corrected it when the state misreported the data. Ms. Harms said Mr. Colyer’s vote total was the only number from her county that the state recorded incorrectly.

“How they misread a four from a five, I don’t know,” said Ms. Harms, a Republican.

Local news outlets found at least two other counties where the vote totals on the county website strayed from those reported by the state. Officials in Mr. Kobach’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Thursday afternoon and evening, and it was unclear what those variations would mean for the overall count.

Mr. Kobach’s office said additional votes, including mail-in ballots, would be reported on Friday. And next week, election workers in the state’s 105 counties will begin examining each of thousands of provisional ballots and deciding whether they should count.

The race between Mr. Kobach, known nationally for dire warnings about voter fraud and illegal immigration, and Mr. Colyer, a comparatively mild-mannered plastic surgeon who has been governor less than seven months, had attracted national interest long before the razor-thin vote total. Both men are staunchly conservative, but they are far different in style and appeal to different factions of Kansas Republicans.

On Monday, President Trump endorsed Mr. Kobach, a cable TV regular who served on Mr. Trump’s defunct voter fraud commission, despite resistance from some national Republicans who believe Mr. Colyer would be a stronger general election candidate. The eventual nominee will face State Senator Laura Kelly, a Democrat, and Greg Orman, a businessman running as an independent, in November.

If the margin in the primary remains close after the provisional and mail-in ballots are counted, the trailing candidate could request a recount. As secretary of state, Mr. Kobach would oversee that process — unless he recuses himself.

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