Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab said his preference was to add a constitutional amendment on abortion to August primary ballots, but the state’s top election official didn’t believe timing of a public vote offered political advantage to either side.
The proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution would declare no right to abortion existed in the state’s Bill of Rights, a position in conflict with a 2019 decision by the Kansas Supreme Court.
The Senate passed the constitutional amendment, but it fell short in the House. Several House Republicans said they voted “no” because they want the issue on November general election ballots.
Schwab said there would be solid turnout in August due to contested Republican primaries and the November presidential election would draw people to the polls. Historically, Kansas turnout is heavier in general elections than primary elections.
"There's going to be good participation either way. If you come from the pro-life perspective, like I do, you save more lives even in the 90 days,“ said Schwab, who backed anti-abortion legislation as a House member prior to election as secretary of state in 2018.
Schwab discussed the abortion amendment and his work to implement a voter reform law adopted by the 2019 Legislature on Capitol Insider, the political podcast of The Topeka Capital-Journal. He also talked about legislation to require universal use of paper ballots, spending on election security, value of the Census and a request to end the secretary of state’s power to prosecute election fraud.
He told legislators in January that rules and regulations applicable in all 105 counties for enforcement of a law allowing Kansans to vote at any polling station in their home county wouldn’t be ready until 2021. Legislators expressed alarm with delay of the “vote anywhere” concept.
On Friday, the Kansas Democratic Party, Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took legal action to force the issue. Schwab responded by urging Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to direct her partisan peers to drop the case.
Schwab, in the podcast interview prior to filing of the lawsuit, said he consulted with the federal homeland security officials and pulled election technology vendors together to develop a workable blueprint that worked in urban counties with comprehensive telecommunications and more rural counties with spotty coverage.
“Some folks were upset they weren't written already, but they're not simple,” Schwab said. “We really don't want to try a new election technique in this election. Imagine if you weren't actually able to vote on election day.”
He said problems with the Democrats’ presidential caucus in Iowa illustrated why Kansas shouldn’t “slap things together.” He expressed anxiety any problem in Kansas could incite the American Civil Liberties Union, which “is constantly looking for reasons to sue us."
He said Sedgwick County was a major advocate of the law, but had a different voting challenge. If Sedgwick County wanted to improve access to polling centers, he said, officials there should increase the number of balloting locations beyond the current 60. Johnson County has at least 200 locations, he said.
Schwab said he was eager for the 2020 Legislature to pass a bill rescinding authority for the secretary of state’s office to initiate prosecution of alleged voter fraud. Kris Kobach, Schwab’s GOP predecessor as secretary of state, said he needed the legal muscle to catch cheaters, especially noncitizen voters.
"It's very rare and rarely is it too serious of a crime,“ Schwab said. ”If you're going to commit a felony, that's normally not the one you're going to commit."