Republican Scott Schwab disagreed with Democrat Brian McClendon on many issues while on the campaign trail, but they were in sync on the necessity of modernizing technology in Kansas' central office for elections and business filings.
Schwab won the election and learned the previous occupier of the secretary of state's office, Kris Kobach, had employees plunking away with an AS/400. It's a business computer system viewed as antiquated by Schwab and a dinosaur by McClendon, the software designer, developer and engineer who was co-founder of a company that eventually became Google Earth.
"I jokingly, kind of tongue-in-cheek, say when we're finally off that system we will have to donate it to the Kansas Historical Society," Schwab said.
The sentiment reflects an open desire by Schwab, who spent a dozen years in the Kansas House, to move the secretary of state's office into the future by draining most of the political rocket fuel stockpiled and prized by Kobach. Schwab expressed more interest in nuts and bolts of managing the office than inspiring more of the political or legal battles punctuating Kobach's tenure.
In the latest Capitol Insider podcast produced by The Topeka Capital-Journal, Schwab defended intent of the state's voter registration proof-of-citizenship law ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. He also reiterated a desire to wash his hands of a state law providing the secretary of state authority to prosecute alleged voter fraud.
He plans to take steps to bring more consistency to application of election law throughout the state's 105 counties. He didn't believe it was part of a secretary of state's job to increase voter registration or boost turnout in elections, because those programs raised questions about bias.
Schwab said Kansas elections were fair because county clerks took seriously their duties. Few illegal immigrants are working to distort outcome of Kansas elections, he said.
"There's not too many people that want to cheat in an election to commit a felony. If you're going to commit a felony, rarely is that the one you want to commit," he said.
Gov. Laura Kelly said during a weekend town hall in Johnson county that she was confident Schwab, the Legislature and governor's office could work together on reforms to guarantee safe elections. She also said it was important Kansas made voting more accessible, and revealed the administration was working with the U.S. Census Bureau toward that goal.
"We're creating over in our Department of Commerce our own census office and we'll be working all across the state finding folks, getting them counted, making sure that everyone is represented," Kelly said.
Rep. Brett Parker, D-Overland Park, said he voted for McClendon, but was "impressed with Secretary Schwab and the effort he's been making to try to work with the Legislature."
The first 20 minutes Schwab spent with the House Elections Committee, Parker said, was "a better use of time than two years working with his predecessor."
On the podcast, Schwab said he supported Attorney General Derek Schmidt's appeal of a U.S. District Court's decision striking the state's proof-of-citizenship law for first-time registrants. At minimum, he said, the appellate court could provide clarity to Kansas officials interested in a deterrent to criminal misconduct.
"Proof of citizenship is very, very important," he said. "This isn't about, you know, increasing the bar and making it harder for someone to register to vote. Right now, we can't check at all. To say you can't do it is a little harsh. Maybe there is something between must and can't."
Under a bill supported by Schwab, authority of the secretary of state to prosecute election fraud would be transferred to the attorney general and that option would remain in hands of local prosecutors.
"I don't know whether there is legitimate evidence to go after someone or not. It's a charge that I can't fulfill," Schwab said. "Two, it's a wear-down on the office. Those resources can be used in other place. We have enough lawsuits going on with the office right now. "
He said Kobach didn't submit a proposed budget before leaving office in January. Somebody in Kobach's office did order a massive quantity of letterhead that likely cannot be used, Schwab said. "We'll make sure it doesn't go into a landfill," he said.
The state should move ahead with a constitutional amendment to end the secretary of state's obligation to spend $800,000 adjusting Census counts every decade to accommodate voting location preferences of college students and military service members, Schwab said.
"It is ridiculous. We're the only state that does it anymore. That's really inefficient government," he said.