Welcome to the Kansas reflector podcasts. I'm Tim carpenter. Today's special guest is Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a Republican and former state legislator who is the state's top elections official. Election security, especially in the wake of the controversy about the 2020 national election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden has led some states to reform systems used for voting, Kansas is among them. And Mr. Schwab is here to offer insights into some of those changes. Welcome.
Thank you. Honored to be here. Appreciate.
Thank you for your time. There are several moving parts of the legislature's recent debate on elections in Kansas. One is the adoption of a bill signed by Governor Laura Kelly, to shift in 2024 to a presidential preference primary rather than the caucus system. Good idea.
It's okay. So that you sometimes get criticized, like, you know, Secretary Schwab, you often come in and say you're neutral, you're neutral, you're neutral. And it's because I actually learned this from Joan Wagner. In my first year as a legislator on tax, we would ask her a question, I try to trap her because she's a Democrat. I'm a Republican, right? I thought that was the right thing you're supposed to do back then. And she said, You're the policymaker, you tell me what to do. And I've really had a lot of respect for her. So I brought that my legislative mindset to this administration to say they're the policymakers. Our bill is statutory cleanup, it's really not policy. That bill, it's policy, what do they do and do not want to do now, here's our concerns we raised with it, your it's $4.7 million, roughly, to pay for it. And that's on the counties. So they did say they will reimburse the counties for their expenses. So that's helpful. It's not much time to turn around for that election. So they're gonna get done with the November local election, and they got to do a quick turnaround for this presidential election. And, you know, these candidates are going to put $10,000 to get their name on a ballot after Super Tuesday, they may not, they may not be a candidate anymore, they may have dropped out, or the person who wins those delegates in Kansas may not ever be on the November general ballot next year. And just because we are the primary until the parties submit their rules to the DNC, in the RNC, we don't even know how much the presidential preference primary is actually going to count towards delegates, because it go back to, you know, Hillary, and and Obama is all about the super delegates. Well, it's a super delegate, one appointed by the party. And so we don't know how much this is going to carry. But again, as policy will do a great job, we do take a lot of comfort, knowing that both party leaders who both criticize me and the quality of our elections, now trust us enough to run another election that we didn't before. So we take some comfort in that saying, it just kind of proves we are right. We do run elections very, very well. In this
it does sort of with an exclamation point say oh, yes, God, we trust you to run this election.
Right in both of them criticize me both the chair of the Democrat Party and chair of the Republican Party both criticize me openly on what we do on elections, but yet now they're asking us to do a new election. Sometimes
I get criticized from both sides of a political debate. I think maybe I'm doing something right. Here's that the cost was an issue it isn't. And so your thinking is, is that when we get closer to it, or the counties spend the money on this, the legislature promises they got there, they promised to reimburse
and from what we saw they did put it in the current omnibus budget bill money so now granted is still has to be signed by the governor but I'm confident she signed the bill she'll sign that yeah, she
signed the legislation the policy part of it and so she'll they'll back it up with the money or they'll look like idiots. Yeah, so So the distinction is right now we have a system of caucus and that's where kind of this convoluted thing where people gather in various places and there's a lot of shouting and yelling and speeches on and you go to your corner and you know, you're with certain candidates and then then they kind of come up with a winner
right and the way the Democrats do it is often different than the Republicans the Republicans normally run it like a traditional election okay on your show your ID you get your you listen to speeches, you vote, you put your ballot, and then you're done. The Democrats do it more like that Iowa away and think of it more like a rank choice, choice voting. You know, everybody goes, Okay, this is the lowest person well, you guys got to pick your next candidate. And then whoever's at the top at the end of the day, gets those but even in Iowa is much hubbub is I get from that. Whoever wins that caucus doesn't necessarily get the majority of the delegates from the state. And that's because of the arcane rules of the party because the party wants to control the party, which is it's their organization if that's what they want to do. One
other quick thing about this is I thought when I was thinking about this presidential preference primary is that I don't believe Donald Trump won the COC Republican caucus in Kansas in 2016. I think Ted Cruz won I think Ted Cruz ones So that would be that's a little that would be a little odd if the former president rolled into Kansas, and somebody who knows from somewhere defeated him, it would just be a little ridiculous given that when Donald Trump was on the ballot, he carried Kansas easily, right.
Yeah. And if Ted Cruz was on the ballot, he would have carried Kansas easy in that general election, too. But it's just going to be fascinating to see the dynamics of who ends up getting in the race, and who ends up surviving Super Tuesday to try to win the state. So
let's hope that when Kansas has this in the spring, I think March something like that 2024 The jig teeth, I believe, 19th that it's still relevant. Let's just cross our fingers that are $4.7 million investment we'll still have Right,
right in so that's, you know, I'm sometimes concerned like you're using taxpayer money to do something that's traditionally a party function. But again, it's a policy thing. There's bipartisan support for it. And yep, we'll do what we're told.
Yep. There you go. All right. Let's take a next step to Senate Bill 221. And this had a lot of pieces to it. But it builds on previous election reforms that you endorse, that generally promote integrity of Kansas elections. There's it's part administration part transparency and part election integrity. Do you want to let's take those bits and talk about it.
Yeah, we can talk about some of the keywords. It is a long bill. Some of the statutes are, imagine your pantry is just completely disorganized, you know, the potato chips are in with a cereal. And you know, you got some Tupperware there, but you can't find it. You got you know, it's just that a pantry. That's what it has been. It's been this clunky hodgepodge of law. So for example, I believe it was in 1861, we first became a state they passed a law that said, if you go to a poll, and there's no poll workers, you can elect your own last because Missouri was kidnapping our poll worker, so we couldn't have an election. Oh, my okay. It's a lot more elections have gotten a lot more complex since then. We don't want that in the law. Because we want folks to go through training, they they take an oath to the state of Kansas, and they do show up.
Can I interrupt? Is that still part of statute? No, that's
what we got rid of. Oh, that's one of the things we get rid of. I've often
wondered. And when you look at the statute books, there must be 100. Very, very silly things in here. And I wish I knew what they were and I'd write a story about it.
Well, that's one of them. It this is what helps. It's so hard to pass an election bill because it becomes so contentious. Oh, well, we got to stop voter suppression. Oh, we gotta stop voter fraud. Why don't we just clean up the statute book? Yeah.
So what you're saying is part of this is just boring.
We're, we've said for the last five years, we are actively boring. So something else this does is it says if you're going to call a local election, for like a school bond issue, you have to have the election in 30 days. And then the statute says it takes you gotta love 45 days for military boughs go out. So these clerks like no matter what I do, I'm breaking the law. So we were able to kind of comb that together and make it consistent. And then just some other simple administrative stuff that saves burden on the counties, a lot of folks will vote you know, in Wichita a couple years ago, on their local election, for Mayor Jeffrey Epstein didn't kill himself got over 600 votes. They have to count that you can write anything in on a right and you can write a Mickey Mouse Pluto or Popeye,
instead of blowing those off, because Mickey Mouse has no chance of winning. And don't worry about counting those right ends,
what we do is if you're going to do in the bigger counties, if you're going to do a write in you have to sign an affidavit with a clerk saying I am actively running for office. So all these other goofy, silly writings that people have, they don't have to count them. I've never
written in a silly name like that. But now I doesn't sound like I can. Well, you can it's just not gonna get counted. Okay, so if they sign an affidavit, the candidate
that you're writing guy's name, you get his balance you're gonna get if we can really find
Mickey Mouse and Mickey signs the affidavit then you'll you don't have to make this once. Well, that seems like a solid reform
it those are the type of things that we've been working on for 30 years. The other thing that we fixed we tried to do before but with the heated primaries we had for treasurer's race and value them both and other things. If you want to pay for a recount, you had to say which counties you wanted to recount in before the Board of canvassers met. And this is where Karen Tyson's or Tyson had a legitimate concern. She submitted her counties for the count. And then they counted the mail ballots that they hadn't got to yet. And they also counted the provisionals also in the county flipped. Well, she's like, Well, I would have counted that county if I knew it's going to flip. But she can't request it till after the board of canvassers meet. Yeah, we fix that. So this is
this is part of the sequencing. Yeah, the steps that people can take, and they just had been, it's a hodgepodge where you the legislature adopts a bill here, two years later, three years later, line up they don't line up quite right. And we modernized language
like It used to say purge the voter rolls. Well, that's kind of a, that's an incendiary term that could becomes partisan. We call it list maintenance.
You're not getting politically
correct on me, are you? So no, it's just letting out third. Some people wanted to purge me. But
really that was just in the last election. So you prevailed? No, don't worry. We do an A. Another bit was transparency to voters and county election office websites provide sample ballots, polling hours and other election information.
Yeah, it's just, it's administrative one on one for an election. And if you can just make some of the first off, we have a lot of new clerks coming in. We had an aging clerk population, pandemic, the attacks on them after the 2020, and accusations of fraud and cheaters. We have a lot of clerks retiring.
Do you have any idea? So we have 105 counties, for appointed by you big counties, and so we really have 101 election clerks? Do you have any idea where there are third? Ballpark a half?
No. Are you guys a lot of them, they won't be up for election till 2020. For
you. Thank you. So
I'm hearing here, here. And I've talked to so many clerks as we travel the state. This is my life. It is you want to hear some good people. But here's what I love about our clerks is their training the person behind them, they've got somebody who can walk in and make it seamless as they go forward. This is where I get frustrated when people attack the election system on Kansas, you're not attacking me. I don't count votes. I have zero voting machines in our agency. It's the counties. Yeah. And they work hard. Sometimes they don't work for very much money. You're attacking that person's intent. They have other duties. They do except for and for counties, they have to do other things besides elections, they have to get out tax notices and property tax things. And so they work incredibly hard for not very much money, and they do it because they just gotta serve an art. And you're attacking their integrity, which I just think is unholy.
Yeah, it's unfortunate. And it's unfortunate that people who are willing to do those jobs are being run off by a bunch of critics who don't understand
that job. And they don't want to be a poll worker to find out.
Yeah. Okay, anything else about your bill here? doors, doors, this Senate Bill 221. With making those changes?
Yeah, there was a couple. There are some provisions that we more that we wanted in the bill. But we just wanted a bipartisan simple bill, the governor would sign and when you have a bifurcated state government where you have a Democrat governor or Republican legislature, you have to get what you can get. And so
you stuck something in there, there was nothing controversial in there, you run the risk of losing the whole
pie. And I'm trying to remember what the provision was, but the disabled community had concerns about it. So we said, well, we'll just take that out. We don't want to fight we want to row together. And this is just stuff that everybody should agree on something
when he was working with Ronald Reagan, you know, they're they're working on a bill and Reagan, dole tells Reagan, I think we can get 80% of this. And we can come back next year and work on the other 20. And Reagan says take the deal.
Yeah. So it words the old football adage, take what the defense gives you. And, you know, we bipartisan is so refreshing sometimes I know some people are like, Well, you didn't hold your ground. No. Conservatives, moderates, Democrats, and liberals. All agreed with this. Why? Because it's just simple correction that should have been done a long time ago.
It's good. I don't, you know, sometimes, bipartisanship, of course, is great. That's the blending of ideas and people coming together. And that really represents the Kansans that they were elected to serve. It's sometimes the partisanship that bothers me is just partisanship by for sport, you know, and that gets that grinds on me. Anyway, the governor, and I don't think this was by sport, but the legislature passed Senate Bill 209. And the governor vetoed that measure, and it was dealing with advanced mail in ballots, the legislature attempted to override that, and I think the Senate fell short. So for now, that bill is on ice until it's always good, come back next year. So under current law, if you mail a ballot by seven on election day, and it's postmarked by election by the Postal Service by election day, and it arrives within three days of the election, it's counted. Yes, that's current law. The proposal was to create a dead stop balance seven election on election day, no more grace period.
Yeah, so it kind of used to be more like that during codebox administration. The post office pulled most of their processing units out of Kansas. So if you're out by Garden City, your your mail will go to New Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico to be processed more Tulsa, Oklahoma. Wichita normally goes to Oklahoma City And I think southeast Kansas goes to St. Joe, northeast Kansas goes to Kansas City, Missouri, northern Kansas goes to Omaha. And then western Kansas goes to Denver. See, well, all these ballots are leaving the state.
You could live in Garden City and mail a letter to your neighbor, and it goes to Denver and then comes back. I mean, something like,
Well, yeah, so this is what I was such an advocate for Dropbox is because liberal Kansas is a perfect example. The post office is right across the street from the County Courthouse with a clerk is, if you put your dropbox in the ballot in the blue Dropbox, your ballot gets sent to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to hopefully just show up across the street and a mailbox, or just put it in that drop box. It's handled by Kansans with our chain of custody laws and practices. And that's why it was such a defender don't give the federal government your ballot, they're going to lose it. And so the agreement and
irony at the greatest risk to an election ballot is the federal government's bureaucracy I
just shot. But so Kobach wanted it to be one to two days, Jamie Chu, Democrat clerk out of Douglas County wanted four to five, they shot to middle and they both agreed on three. And if you need Jamie Chu and Kris Kobach, to agree on something, I'd say that's a pretty good win. And that's what they agreed on. And that and I think it was Keith e sauce representative Esau was the chair at the time, and push the measure through and the legislature.
So the idea was we don't like this window. And so let's eliminate it. Do you think this will come back in the future? Or do you really think there's a need for this change?
Okay, so let's go back to the Jamie Shu Kobach discussion, what should the policy be? I'm gonna go back to my role back in the legislature. That's a legislative question. That is what is should it be three days? Should it be one day? Should it be no day? Should it be five days? That's a conversation that you hash out in committee hearings on why something is done the way it is? And then we just do it?
We do I guess the other bit of this is the Postal Service has become less reliable. You know, the idea of arriving within three days, you're taking a risk that you gotta postmarked in time, but instead of it arriving in a couple days, it might arrive nine days. Yeah,
I would tell. I would say that if you mail your ballot, election day, it's probably not going to get the office on time. But a good 30 day grace period, the 30 day grace period is normally for the person who mails it on a Thursday or Friday before the election. And it takes a week to get across the street.
Okay? Because there's are some people that are busy and want to participate but can't run down there on a Tuesday.
Yeah, I gotta take on work. Yeah, I got a friend, he had a stroke. He's he his wife, and he, she takes care of him. He's cognitively able, but he's in a wheelchair. He's he's basically a quadriplegic, and he wants to vote. And so but he's, there's no way he's going to be able to go into town and drop into Dropbox, they have to mail that ballot, unless the wife runs it in for him, which is not always functional, because she's a breadwinner in the family. So there's just certain circumstances, they got to do it. And we always tell folks, that's why we put the ballot tracker on our website. If it's getting close to election day, and they haven't got your ballot, you need to reach out to your county clerk.
So before we wrap up here, are there other ideas that you have lurking in the back of your mind about changes, you'd like to make it or
select one and we're working with the Department of Corrections, I was reaching out to the black community and the black pastors union down in Wichita, because Roderick Henderson was my ranking D. And, you know, I did the freedom tour down in Alabama in Birmingham, and Montgomery and Selma, and if you ever get a chance to go down there, if I would like to take a lot of folks that considered think Kansas is racist, and go see what happened down in Alabama, it's terrifying and the number of children that were killed, and as you know, I've lost a child. You just, it's just so sad. And so I reached out to Roderick said, I want to help your community, I want to reach out and they were not real trustee, trusting of me the first time we met, but I solicited a voter registration drive out like now we don't need it. I'm like, Okay, well, what do you need? They said, We're trying, we get folks that are released from prison, and we're getting them into our churches and trying to get them into our community. So they don't realize that if you're in a prison and get released, and you've paid your debt to society, you get your certificate reinstating your voting rights. Okay? Well with overcrowding, you may be in Texas, or you may be in a county jail. Well, if you serve your sentence in a county jail, the county jail doesn't have authority to reinstate that. So if you come out of a jail, you don't get the certificate. If you come out of the prison you do? Well, the problem is most of the people who are able to come out of prison and serve their sentence aren't in prison. Those are the folks that are going to be there for the rest of their life. So they put the folks that are gonna be in prison for 24 months or 36 months in a county jail. And then they don't want to reoffend by registering to vote. So they're in limbo. So we're working with corrections to try to find a fix to This but if we can't, I would like to put it in statute to say if you if you've served your debt to society, when you release whether it's a county jail or the prison, the Department of Corrections shall give a certificate
of what's really interesting. I
wasn't aware of that was an issue. I didn't either. This is what I love about my job, because you gotta go out, you talk to these groups, and I always finish my conversations, you know, what do you need for me, and this is they said, This is what we need.
We need the best ideas or boots on the ground.
Yeah. And it's been great working with the black community in their in down in Wichita. We've been down there probably 1314 times. Pastor Robert down there is just a good friend, he's really reached out to us because like minority owned businesses, hey, help. Talk to us about your website. And we've talked we spoke a lot with the Latino community down in Sedgwick County as well, because you know, there's they're they're either here on a business visa, family visa, but they have legal residents here. And they're starting the business. And so we want to we bilingual to our page as a start to learn English so that they can start their business whether it's a hair salon, restaurant, lot coin, AKA a lot
of the Secretary of State's responsibilities deals with business. Business,
yeah, we are the filing business. And so when you reach out to those communities, and then they're never these issues will never be in the press. You're right, unless I bring it to them, you know, because he had other issues going on. I got it. And the press corps is as robust as it used to be. But when you find that out, and you get a chance to say, hey, we we can solve that problem. It's pretty rewarding. And Kansas got so many diverse, wonderful communities. I, you know, the night before I go traveling, I just want to be home. But then I travel and you meet some of the most wonderful people across the state and you have a friend and every county in the state. It's, it's a pretty good game.
It is good to get out of the office. I want to thank our guest Secretary of State Scott Schwab, who's this state's chief election officer and business filing guru. Thanks for joining us on the podcast.