Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said in a cable news interview Thursday night that he plans to recuse himself from the vote tally process in the face of pressure from Gov. Jeff Colyer and mounting confusion over vote totals.
Kobach said that he would recuse himself in an interview with CNN hours after Colyer had sent a letter demanding that Kobach refrain from instructing county election officials on the counting of ballots in the primary race for governor on a day when the vote total narrowed to roughly 100 votes as multiple counties reported that vote totals were incorrect.
“I’ll be happy to recuse myself. But as I say, it really doesn’t make any difference. My office doesn’t count the votes. The counties do,” Kobach said in an interview with host Chris Cuomo.
Colyer spokesman Kendall Marr told The Star that the governor had not been notified by Kobach or his office that he intended to recuse himself. He said Coyler’s team found out about it through news reports.
“We don’t have an official recusal,” Marr said. “We want to see what that looks like tomorrow. We want to make it not a symbolic recusal. The secretary of state has a substantive role in this process and the recusal needs to be substantive.”
Marr added that “on top of the recusal, we’re also asking that the secretary of state stop giving incorrect information to the counties, particularly related to the mail-in ballots.”
Colyer released a letter at 5 p.m. calling on Kobach to recuse himself from providing advice to local election officials. The letter comes after multiple counties reported that the election night totals on the secretary of state’s website were inaccurate, further clouding the results of a historically close election.
“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 a letter.
Marr explained in a phone call that the campaign has heard that Kobach’s office told county clerks to disregard ballots with a smudged postmark. Marr said that ballots received before a Friday deadline need to be counted.
Jamie Shew, the clerk of Douglas County Clerk, said the “recommendation was they could not be proven so could possibly not count, but those would still be taken to the board of canvassers for consideration instead of the Friday count. “
Bryan Caskey, the state director of elections who works for Kobach, also said he had only seen news reports about the secretary’s comments and had no firsthand knowledge about what the recusal would entail.
The call for recusal was Colyer’s biggest shot at Kobach since Tuesday’s primary ended without a clear result and a major indication that the election may ultimately be decided in a courthouse.
Kobach said Wednesday that he had no plans to recuse himself if a recount happens after the provisional ballots are counted. He said his office plays only an administrative role in that process and does not actually count ballots.
Around the same time news broke that Colyer received 100 more votes in a western Kansas county than previously reported, the governor’s campaign announced the establishment of a voter integrity hotline. Hours later, additional counties reported that votes had been incorrectly reported on Tuesday.
“We’ve received countless reports that voters experienced issues when they voted on Tuesday. Many Colyer voters had difficulties finding his name on the ballot, were forced to vote on provisional ballots, or were turned away outright for unknown reasons,” Marr said in a news release.
Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, said the hotline was a clear indication that Colyer’s campaign is preparing for a potential court case.
The hotline announcement coincided with the discovery of 100 more votes for Colyer in Thomas County near the Colorado border.
Later Thursday, Haskell County confirmed that its reported vote totals also were incomplete. Colyer received 220 votes in the county, which was 117 more than previously reported. Kobach received 257 votes in the county, which is 147 more than previously reported.
Deputy Haskell County Clerk Emily Aragon said that the county was still missing a precinct when it sent initial results to the secretary of state’s office Tuesday night. The county sent updated results later that night, but the hundreds of new votes were not made public until Thursday.
Wyandotte County’s vote totals posted on its elections webpage twice didn’t match up with the numbers posted on the Secretary of State’s website on Thursday.
Throughout Thursday, the Kansas Secretary of State listed Kobach’s vote from Wyandotte County at 2,737, while Colyer fetched 1,538.
Then in the afternoon, Wyandotte County’s election site changed its total, listing 2,714 votes for Kobach and 1,532 for Colyer.
But later on in the evening, Wyandotte County changed its vote total once again. It said Kobach had received 2,769 while Colyer had 1,564.