It has never been clear whether Kris Kobach understands what his job is. As Kansas’ secretary of state, a position he’s held for nearly eight years, Kobach’s main responsibility is to serve as the state’s chief elections officer. But instead of ensuring that Kansas’ elections run smoothly, Kobach has used his office to foment nativist hysteria around the nonexistent problem of voter fraud, attempting to purge and prosecute voters while tormenting immigrants. This campaign raised his national profile and lined his pockets with taxpayer money. But it did not improve Kansas’ elections system, which Kobach allowed to atrophy despite mounting evidence that future races could be thrown into chaos.
Now that chaos has arrived, in the very election that will determine Kobach’s political future. The Aug. 7 primary between the secretary of state and incumbent Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer remains too close to call due to Election Day errors that left thousands of ballots in limbo. Kobach’s lead of 110 votes could disappear depending on if (and how) these votes are counted, decisions the secretary of state may be able to affect despite having ostensibly recused himself from the process. The whole mess is an absolute nightmare for Kansas Republicans, one they richly deserve. For years, the state GOP allowed Kobach to abuse the powers of his office for political gain while failing to perform basic duties. Now his negligence has come back to haunt the party, which faces an internecine brawl that is spiraling toward catastrophe.
When Kobach ran for secretary of state in 2010, he coasted to office promising to pass a slew of voter-suppression measures—measures he deemed necessary to counteract the fake scourge of dead people casting ballots. At Kobach’s urging, the GOP-dominated Legislature passed a law in 2011 requiring individuals to provide proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed the bill despite there being serious doubts over its legality. Kobach also urged the Legislature to grant him authority to prosecute voter fraud, which it did over unanimous Democratic opposition.
Although Kobach claimed to have identified 100 cases of possible double voting, he has only secured a handful of convictions—mostly confused seniors, not nefarious immigrants. His work did catch the eye of Donald Trump, who put him in charge of the presidential voter-fraud commission. But the panel collapsed after Kobach illegally iced out one Democratic commissioner, spurring a lawsuit. And in June, a federal judge permanently blocked Kobach’s signature proof-of-citizenship law when he could not provide any evidence of voter fraud in court. (Kobach defended the measure himself and performed so badly at trial that the judge ordered him to attend continuing legal-education classes.)