Hundreds of illegally rejected ballots gave Kris Kobach primary win, voting activist says

TOPEKA, KS - AUGUST 07: Republican primary candidate for Governor Kris Kobach, and his wife Heather Kobach speaks to supporters just after midnight in a tight race with Jeff Colyer that is too close to call. Kobach was supported by President Trump against incumbent Jeff Colyer on August 7, 2018 in Topeka, Kansas. (Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images)

An election integrity activist in Kansas filed an objection Thursday to Kris Kobach’s candidacy for governor, claiming elections officials illegally rejected more early ballots than Kobach’s margin of victory.

Davis Hammet, the director of the Kansas-based organization Loud Light, told ThinkProgress that the rejected advance mail ballots throw Kobach’s extremely narrow primary win into question. Kobach defeated current Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) in August’s primary by just 343 votes out of more than 317,000 cast.

Hammet alleges that Kansas election officials illegally tossed ballots over signature matching issues and because of voters’ unaffiliated party status.

“This is ridiculous how… legitimate ballots are being thrown out,” Hammet said. “This primary was in essence an illegitimate, unconstitutional election.”

There’s no way to know exactly how many ballots were illegally rejected across the state. Kansas elections are run at the county level, and county officials are not required to report why they reject provisional ballots in a primary election.

Hammet said he filed open records requests and contacted county election officials, learning that early ballots were rejected because signatures on the ballots did not match signatures on file for the voters. When this occurred, voters weren’t notified whether their ballots would be counted and weren’t given an opportunity to remedy the issue in order to ensure that they were, in violation of both Kansas law and the 14th Amendment. He also alleges that some ballots were rejected because of lack of party affiliation, despite the fact that Kansas allows voters to affiliate with a party and cast a ballot on Election Day.

In an amended objection filed Friday, Hammet added a claim explaining that it violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment that some counties rejected ballots for signature verification issues, while others did not. According to Hammet, Kansas’ two largest counties, Johnson County and Sedgwick County, each designated roughly 2,300 provisional votes. Johnson County rejected 153 ballots based on signature mismatch, while Sedgwick County did not reject any for this reason.

“What county you live in in Kansas determines the likelihood of your vote being counted,” Hammet said in summary.

Furthermore, Kobach appointed Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsger, the official who made the decision to reject 153 ballots because of signature issues. He says he spoke to Kobach by phone twice the night of the primary. It’s not known what the two discussed, according to the Kansas City Star, which first reported the communications.

A board consisting of three GOP elections officials will hear Hammet’s opposition Monday afternoon. While Kobach typically sits on the board, he has recused himself from the last few hearings and will likely send a representative in his place on Monday.

“I would be kind of foolish if I didn’t think I’d be walking basically up to a wall,” Hammet said about his chances of success. “These are three Republicans whose future is attached to Kris Kobach being the nominee and they don’t have interests in opening up these questions.”

Representatives for Kobach’s campaign and both Kobach and Metzger’s offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Colyer conceded the GOP primary to Kobach a week after the election, despite concerns about Kobach’s involvement in the vote-counting process. Hammet said that decision shocked him, given the number of votes in question.

“I was in the room when he conceded and my jaw dropped,” he said. “It just felt so soon… and there are clear issues with the constitutionality and legality of how this election was handled.”

The night of the primary, Kobach told ThinkProgress that voter fraud has the potential to swing close elections — including his own.

As Kansas’ secretary of state, Kobach frequently claims non-citizen voting and other forms of illegal voting are rampant, despite studies and now a federal court that say both are exceedingly rare.

If fraudulent activity is occurring, Hammet said, it’s at the hands of GOP elections officials like Kobach and his allies. That’s why he decided to file his objection, even if his desired outcome — decertifying Kobach as the winner and putting Colyer on the ballot — would hurt Democrats, who see Kobach as easier to defeat in a general election than Colyer.

“A big part of this is hoping they can get their act together before November and raising these issues so they’re under scrutiny,” Hammet said.