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Kansas' Secretary Of State Republican Primary Candidates

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The Republican primary for Kansas secretary of state has been interesting to say the least. 

Incumbent Kris Kobach has been criticized by his opponent Scott Morgan for associating with rock 'n' roller Ted Nugent, drumming up too much media attention with national immigration issues and continuing to practice law while in office.

Kobach maintains that Kansans share his political ideals. In turn, he suggests that Morgan is too liberal to even be considered a Republican; he points to Morgan's support of abortion rights and his stance against concealed-carry firearms.

On Tuesday's Up to Date, Brian Ellison visited with both candidates to get their perspectives on voter ID legislation, the role of the office of secretary of state and their plans for the future. The winner will face Democratic candidate Jean Schodorf in November.

Here are some of the candidates' responses:

On the effects of voter registration and ID laws in Kansas

Morgan: I have never been convinced that there has become a sudden need in Kansas, after 150 years, to require citizenship proof before people can register here. Mr. Kobach provided a list of 235 allegations of voting impropriety to the legislature. This was from 1997-2012. He had 235, of which only 18 mentioned [illegal] aliens, of which only five "may" have voted. Over 10 million Kansans voted during that period, but because of that, we stuck these requirements in, and now we have 19,000 Kansans in suspense, who can't vote. I don't understand why 235 out of 10 million is such a big dang deal, but 19,000 Kansans have their vote canceled before they can even cast it.

My opponent dismisses it and brags about a 72 percent success rate in people who try to register. I think that's an embarrassment. I think our republic demands that we have a broad and engaged electorate. When we start limiting the right to vote in order to protect it, I get very nervous.

Kobach: We do have the 235 cases presented to the legislature that Mr. Morgan alluded to. In addition to those, we have approximately 70 aliens that we know of who have registered to vote and many have voted in Kansas. But Mr. Morgan presents a red herring. He says, "Well, 235 cases of voter fraud out of 10 million, that's a very small fraction." And indeed, it is. But you can say the same of the number of voters who voted in the infamous Chicago election of 1960 in the presidential race. Many people thought there was a lot of fraud in it, and it was also a small fraction of the votes cast in Illinois that year.

The question is not what percentage of votes cast are fraudulent, the question is this: do you have close elections in which a handful of illegal votes could swing the results? And the answer is unquestionably yes. In the past 10 years, since 2004, Kansas has had 24 elections where the margin of victory is 50 votes or less. And those are elections for state representatives and members of Congress. Of those 24, three were decided by a margin of five votes or less. And one was a dead tie that had to be settled with a coin toss. So we do have close votes. And we have many many cases where you have a handful, and in one case approximately 50, illegal votes cast, and that can steal an election.

On what the office of secretary of state means to them

Morgan: Well, you know, it is an odd job. Most people don't know what secretary of state is, they get it confused with the national office. It is largely a clerical position. My background: I'm a fifth-generation Kansan. I worked for Senators [Nancy] Kassebaum and [Bob] Dole in Washington D.C. I represented the United States Senate on the Federal Election Commission. And I was chief of counsel for Sen. Dole's presidential campaign in 1988. 

We came back to Kansas and I was chief of counsel for Gov. Hayden. Then my wife and I started a publishing business on state and city statistics. We spent 17 years on that business and two terms on the Lawrence school board. All of that is kind of a mish-mash, but what it does is provide me with the private and public side that makes me uniquely qualified for secretary of state.

I think the biggest thing that I bring is a remarkable passion for the right to vote.

Kobach: I spent 15 years as a UMKC law professor. I took two years away to work as counsel and White House Fellow for U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in Washington. And I also have many years experience litigating on the issue of illegal immigration, representing cities and states around the country, as well as 10 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in a case right now, in the interest of enforcing our immigration laws more strongly.

The secretary of state's office has two principal responsibilities: it is the chief administrative official for elections in the state, and it is also the chief official for business filings in the state. Where the intersection is, for me, is the rule of law. For many years, I've fought for the rule of law in immigration. That is to say, we welcome legal immigration, but not illegal immigration in this country. 

Similarly with elections, voter fraud has been a growing problem, up until we took some steps to solve it in Kansas. Again, the rule of law needs to be respected in our elections. We need combative, open, and very vigorous, even controversial, [elections]. But at the end of the day, we all need to be confident that the person who had the larger number of votes was the winner, and that there was not a single fraudulent vote cast.

On how they will influence Kansas Republicans

Morgan: I think, uniquely among statewide offices, the secretary of state needs to be someone that everybody - whether they're Republican, Democrat, conservative, libertarian, liberal - feels like is a fair adjudicator. Someone who is the chief elections officer who will give everyone a fair hearing so it's not partisan. So you have to be very careful about being some sort of leader for your party. I think the fact that Mr. Kobach has a PAC that he contributes and endorses other candidates ... I know he's proud of that, but I think it is just wrong.

I want to quit giving out the image that [Republicans] are afraid of new voters, that we're afraid of different voters. I want to compete for those votes, and I think we have an ability to do that. But we've got to get back to being a reasonable, center-right party. We've got to get away from extremism, particularly for this office. We've got to be the people they trust in that office.

Kobach: A statewide elected Republican is a leader of Kansas Republicans and can serve as an unbiased arbiter of elections. Let's make one thing clear here: we're talking about a GOP primary. Mr. Morgan's positions are exactly the opposite of the GOP platform. The 2012 National Republican platform - and I served on the committee that drafted that platform in Florida - is in favor of photo ID and is in favor of proof of citizenship. Mr. Morgan takes the opposite position. 

In a 2008 survey, [Mr. Morgan was] against conceal and carry, he thinks abortion should be legal under any circumstance, and he's for in-state tuition for illegal aliens. These are all positions that are opposite the Republican party. He's an articulate man, he's an excellent candidate for office, but not for this party. If he wishes to represent a party he should at least reflect that party's positions.

On whether the candidates will pursue other political offices in the future

Kobach: If you'd asked me in 2006, "Do you intend to run for secretary of state in 2010?" I probably would've said no. But what happened between '06 and '10 was that the issue of voter fraud became a very prominent one. People will probably recall the 2008 election where ACORN was all over the news, and voter fraud was occurring in many different states. And it occurred to me that, as a law professor who supports the rule of law, this is a situation that we can solve that wouldn't be rocket science. There are reasonable solutions we can take, and Kansas can be a great state to lead the rest of the country in doing that. So I chose this office to run for in 2010, because I thought I could add value. Will I be secretary of state forever? Probably not. Do I know what the future holds? No, I don't.

Morgan: I'm 57 and any illusions of grandeur that I had at any point were beaten out of me by three children and my own business. No, I'm actually excited about being secretary of state. I'm excited to work on the clerical side of it and making that better. And I'm really, really excited about preaching the gospel of voting and getting more Kansans to vote.

Find out more about the issues on the ballot on KCUR's elections page.


Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill.