Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Friday that he would recuse himself from the duties of his office until the conclusion of his state’s 2018 primary season. He also took the opportunity to sharply criticize Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer, over whom he has a razor-thin lead in the GOP’s gubernatorial primary.
The governor had called on Kobach, whose office oversees elections in Kansas, to step aside as the ballots from Tuesday’s primary were counted. In a letter to Kobach on Thursday evening, Colyer said that the secretary of state was conveying misleading information about mail-in ballots and that he had heard reports of Kobach telling county officials not to count ballots that had unreadable or missing postmarks. Colyer urged Kobach to allow the state attorney general to oversee the recount.
In a responding letter Friday, Kobach said he would hand over his official responsibilities to Eric Rucker, the assistant secretary of state.
“I have carefully considered your request and have decided that it is in the best interest of the citizens of Kansas that I permit another to perform the duties of the secretary of state until the conclusion of the 2018 primary election process,” Kobach said. “Kansas statute permits the assistant secretary of state to perform the tasks of the secretary of state in certain circumstances. Therefore, Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker will carry out my election responsibilities, including membership on the state canvassing board and the state objection board.”
Kobach’s recusal comes after discrepancies emerged between the unofficial vote totals from his office and those reported by some counties. While these kinds of discrepancies aren’t unusual, they drew increased attention to Kobach’s supervisory role in the post-election count.
The secretary of state spent much of his recusal letter attacking Colyer, saying his opponent didn’t understand the elections process in Kansas. Local election officials, Kobach said, are responsible for the counting of ballots.
“Your suggestion that these same county election officials need to be reminded by you to abide by federal and state election laws does nothing to increase the public’s trust in the elections process and is beneath the office of governor,” Kobach wrote.
Colyer had also suggested Kobach was violating a Kansas professional rule for lawyers that prohibits them from giving advice on matters in which they have a personal interest. Kobach claimed that Colyer’s understanding of the rule would mean that a lawyer could never serve as the state’s elected governor, attorney general or secretary of state, because all of those officials are members of the state canvassing board, which is involved in elections.
Kobach, who has repeatedly spread allegations of widespread voter fraud without evidence, also said that the governor’s comments could “undermine the public’s confidence in the election process.”
“May I suggest that you trust the people of Kansas have made the right decision at the polls and that our election officials will properly determine the result as they do in every election,” he wrote.
Kendall Marr, a Colyer spokesman, said the governor was not satisfied that Kobach’s recusal alone would get rid of the conflict of interest.
“While Eric Rucker is a good and decent man, we do not believe assigning Kris Kobach’s duties to an at-will employee, whom Sec. Kobach can fire at any time, actually addresses the clear conflict of interest that exists,” Marr said. “We hope he will reconsider our request to allow the Attorney General to provide proper legal advice to county elected officials to reassure Kansans that the election between Secretary Kobach and Governor Colyer is free from conflicts of interest.”
In an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Thursday, Kobach had downplayed his role in counting ballots but suggested he would remove himself from the process.
“The counties do the counting of ballots so there’s really no point to it, but I said if my opponent wishes me to, I’d be happy to. It’s purely symbolic. I don’t think he understands the process,” Kobach said. “We’ll be formally answering his request tomorrow, but I’ll give you a heads-up, yes, I’ll be happy to recuse myself.”
Asked on Thursday evening to confirm that Kobach would recuse himself, spokeswoman Danedri Hebert said, “The secretary of state doesn’t count ballots.”
Kobach led Colyer by 121 votes on Thursday evening, but that tally is likely to change as more provisional and mail-in ballots are counted in the coming days.
The story has been updated to reflect Kobach’s formal recusal.