One of the most closely watched Republican primaries of the year was held in Kansas this week, where incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer faced off against Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Everyone expected it to be a close contest, and the results didn't disappoint: Kobach currently leads by 191 votes out of over 311,000 cast.
It's not over just yet, though, and in the coming days, officials will still have to count provisional and mail-in ballots. The prospect of a recount is very real.
And that's where this is likely to get tricky. The New York Times captured the dynamic nicely:
Kris W. Kobach, the hard-charging Kansas secretary of state, has long raised concerns about the integrity of America's elections. He has warned the president that there is rampant voter fraud, crusaded for stringent voter identification laws and tried unsuccessfully to convince a federal judge that the handful of Kansans he caught voting illegally were merely "the tip of the iceberg."Now Mr. Kobach, who oversees the state's elections, finds himself in charge of a closely watched Republican gubernatorial primary that is far too close to call.... The candidate holding the razor-thin lead? Mr. Kobach himself.
Yes, the person who would oversee the recount process is the same person who stands to benefit if the votes go his way.
The Kansas City Star reported yesterday, "No law requires Kobach to recuse himself, but legal and political experts said that he should do so to maintain trust in the election."
And yet, as of yesterday, Kobach -- the state's top elections official -- said he has no plans to recuse himself from the process, despite the apparent conflict of interest. The far-right Republican said his office "serves as a coordinating entity overseeing it all," but since his team wouldn't literally count ballots, Kobach is satisfied that he's detached enough.
He added, "If the margin is less than 10 votes or something extraordinarily close, I would expect any person to call for a recount. A recount would take a significant amount of time to do a recount statewide."
I suppose "extraordinarily close" is a subjective standard, but as things stand, 0.06% of the primary vote totals separate Kobach and Colyer.
The Kansas City Star report added, "Colyer would have to pay Kobach's office a bond to pay for the cost of a hand recount and Kobach would get to set the price."
I'm trying to think of a way to defend Kobach's refusal to recuse himself from this process. Nothing is coming to mind.
Update: Kobach seemed to hedge on his position last night, telling Fox News, “If my opponent insists I recuse, so that the numbers are sent to somebody else, we can certainly do that. But we’re not directly involved in the recounting.”