Low election turnout numbers in Kansas emphasize for Brian McClendon that the secretary of state should be judged on the basis of voter participation.

The Democrat from Lawrence thinks he can move Kansas's ranking from 36th to the top 10 among states nationwide through a combination of better leadership and the application of technology skills that made him a Google executive.

Republican Kris Kobach has fought the wrong battles, McClendon said, while overseeing the office for two terms. Kobach, now a candidate for governor, espoused restrictions he said were needed to keep immigrants off voting rolls despite scant evidence of illegal activity.

In contrast to imposing what amounts to a poll tax, McClendon said, his focus would be "on getting things done." He talked about his ideas for redirecting the office's attention during a conversation with Capitol Insider, the podcast of The Topeka Capital-Journal that probes political candidates and their ideas.

"Kobach has not welcomed voting," McClendon said. "Many of the things that he's done to communicate about voting are actually attempts to scare people away from the polls. And I think that we should be doing the opposite. We should be motivating people to come to the polls, making it easier."

 

The other choices on the November ballot are Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, and Libertairan Rob Hodgkinson.

McClendon rose to prominence with the company that developed a product now known as Google Earth, placing his childhood apartment in Lawrence at the center of the world. The engineer joined Uber in 2015, then returned to his hometown last year.

Voters will see his initial-based nickname, BAM, on the ballot.

"This came from the fact that it's been my email address at various companies for the last 25 years because we had to have unique addresses," McClendon said. "There are many Brians at some of these companies, but there was only one BAM."

He helped develop ksvotes.org, where Kansas residents can quickly register to vote. Even before a federal court struck down a Kansas law earlier this year that required proof of citizenship documents, the website bypassed the restriction by using a federal registration form.

The standard technology used to build the website is commonplace for governments around the world, McClendon said. Meanwhile, the secretary of state's website, kssos.org, hasn't been updated in nearly a decade. The site is difficult to navigate, 80 percent of the documents are not searchable, and it wasn't built for phones.

For McClendon, the problem is not a matter of resources.

"It's a leadership problem," McClendon said. "Basically, the secretary of state's office focuses where the secretary of state tells them to focus, and they spent their time on other things because the current secretary did not think this was important."

McClendon said same-day voter registration and automatic registration should be considered, although there are some challenges. A more immediate goal is to increase advance voting.

"If you have your mail-in ballot and on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon and you can sit down with it and you can look at who the candidates are, you can go out on the web and read about the candidates, watch their videos, whatever you'd like to do, you'll make better decisions," McClendon said. "And if we do that with a lot more people participating, we'll end up picking people rather than the party. And I think that's going to produce a much better government."

Kansas elections are vulnerable to attacks, McClendon said, and more training — something else that has been neglected under the current administration — is necessary to prevent errors. But he doesn't think the systems have been infiltrated yet. Most of the electronic voting machines in Kansas have a paper trail that safeguards against any manipulation of numbers.

"Those machines are not easily hackable at scale," McClendon said. "You might get some hacker who could hack one of them, but to successfully move an election, you would have to hack hundreds of them, and you need physical access."