Accusations of Voter Fraud Can Hurt Republicans, Too

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- At any point in the past decade, Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer could’ve said something. When Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was engineering ways to suppress votes, and repeating false claims about voter fraud, Colyer could’ve piped up.

Colyer could’ve pointed out that Kobach, his opponent in the state’s Republican gubernatorial primary, has never produced evidence to back his shameless claims. He could’ve noted that, during Kobach’s almost eight years as secretary of state, his total number of convictions for voter fraud can be counted on the fingers of his two hands — including the wealthy Republicans prosecuted for voting in two states where they owned houses.

At a trial earlier this year, Kobach’s claims of spectacular voter fraud were reduced to this: In a state where 1.8 million voters have cast millions of votes over the past 18 years, the grand total of noncitizen voters amounted to … 11. Likewise, Kobach’s leadership role in President Donald Trump’s voter-fraud commission blew up when the commission was disbanded without producing any evidence to justify Trump’s claims of millions of instances of voter fraud.

Colyer, who served as lieutenant governor under Governor Sam Brownback until Brownback joined the Trump administration, surely knows that Kobach is a fraud. But Colyer never said anything when Kobach prattled on about millions of illegal votes. Like other Republicans, he undoubtedly realized that Kobach’s crusade is designed to benefit Republicans by suppressing more Democratic than Republican votes.

The Kansas primary was last Tuesday. The most recent vote tally shows Colyer trailing Kobach by 110 votes. Colyer is surely wishing the state’s election machinery and vote counting were supervised by someone more honest.

Indeed, Colyer is suddenly a stickler for voting rights. “We’ve received countless reports that voters experienced issues when they voted on Tuesday,” said Kendall Marr, a spokesman for Colyer’s campaign. “Many Colyer voters had difficulties finding his name on the ballot, were forced to vote on provisional ballots, or were turned away outright for unknown reasons,” Marr said. The campaign has established a “voter integrity” hotline.

Kobach has recused himself from the vote-counting process, but his office is still involved. Results may not be certified until Aug. 31, after which litigation and calls for recounts seem eminently possible.

For his part, Kobach continues to be Kobach. Last week he told the Kansas City Star, without providing evidence, that noncitizens could have voted in the primary. When he lost a local straw poll to Colyer in June, he promptly blamed voter fraud for that, too. In a Trumpian flourish, last week Kobach sent a letter to Colyer stating that Colyer’s “unrestrained rhetoric has the potential to undermine the public’s confidence in the election process.”

Politics is a team sport. During Kobach’s years of dedicated fraud-mongering, Kansas Republicans supported him because his efforts were useful to them. That, more or less, is the story of the Republican Party writ large: Time and again, liars and grifters have been given free rein — so long as their targets were Democrats, racial minorities, liberals or the kind of facts that Republican donors find inconvenient.

Many Republicans continue to pretend, for example, that Jerry Falwell Jr. is a spiritual sage, and that Newt Gingrich is a wise man. And when an even more spectacular liar and fraud won their party’s nomination for president, many Republicans performed the act all over again — pretending that Trump is not the corrupt and dangerous con artist that they know him to be.

Colyer now fears that his gubernatorial campaign is on the wrong side of the GOP’s corrupt bargain with Kobach. And he can be pretty sure that if he pulls ahead of Kobach in the vote count, Kobach will shout “fraud.” It’s quite a predicament. Maybe Colyer should’ve spoken up sooner.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg Opinion. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.

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