In three states, the referee for the midterm elections is also on the field as a player. Elected secretaries of state in Georgia and Kansas — who in their official capacities oversee the elections in their states — are running for governor. Ohio’s secretary of state is running for lieutenant governor. All are Republicans. They have faced scattered calls to resign but have refused to do so. Election reformers say the situation underscores the conflict of interest when an official has responsibilities for an election while also running as a candidate. “There is just too much of a temptation if a political party is in a position to run the mechanics of an election to try to tilt it, and it’s a temptation we ought not to encourage,” said former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who spent 34 years on Capitol Hill. “This is not nuclear physics.” While the three secretaries of state are Republican, concerns about inappropriate actions by partisans who hold the office transcend parties. An independent counsel earlier this month began investigating Kentucky’s Democratic secretary of state, Alison Lundergan Grimes, over allegations that her office accessed voter registration data to check the party affiliation of job applicants. Grimes may seek higher office next year.
Grimes father was indicted in late August for trying to funnel money into his daughter’s failed 2014 bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp faces charges of voter suppression in his state, while Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has become an emblem of a political warrior. A former chairman of the state’s Republican Party, Kobach organized the Prairie Fire political action committee to attack moderate Republican candidates while serving as secretary of state.
Issues about his dual hats swirled around Kobach during the Aug. 7 primary in Kansas when he was locked in a tight race for the Republican nomination with Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer. It marked one of the closest primary races in U.S. history and came down to counting provisional ballots.