National News

Kobach Says He Will Recuse Himself From Kansas Primary Vote Count

Posted August 9, 2018 11:32 p.m. EDT
Updated August 9, 2018 11:36 p.m. EDT

Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach of Kansas, clinging to the slimmest of leads in the Republican primary for governor, said Thursday night that he planned to recuse himself from the vote-counting process. Earlier in the evening, his opponent, Gov. Jeff Colyer, said that some local election officials had been provided incorrect information by Kobach that could suppress votes.

“I’ll be happy to recuse myself,” Kobach, who oversees the state’s elections, said in an interview with CNN. Kobach, who has the endorsement of President Donald Trump and has built a national reputation for warning of widespread vote fraud, suggested that his role in the Kansas count had been mostly symbolic anyway.

The governor’s fiery recusal request, and Kobach’s pledge to comply, came after the nationally watched primary left the candidates separated by only 191 votes entering Thursday.

In a letter, Colyer said some clerks had been provided incorrect information about which ballots to count, and he urged Kobach 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,” Colyer wrote.

That sour letter, sent just a day after both candidates called for Republican unity, underscored long-standing 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 Kobach’s office and the numbers posted on at least three county election websites. And Colyer was upset by 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 Colyer when he had actually received 522. The change meant that Colyer in fact carried Thomas County, where Kobach received 466 votes, and it halved 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. Harms said 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 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 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.

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 Kobach, also known nationally for dire warnings about illegal immigration, and 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, Trump endorsed Kobach, a cable TV regular who served on the president’s defunct voter fraud commission, despite resistance from some national Republicans who believe Colyer would be a stronger general election candidate. The eventual nominee will face state Sen. 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.