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Adam Blake/GazetteCraig McCullah (standing), republican candidate for Kansas Secretary of State, answers an audience question while fellow candidates Keith Esau (middle) and Scott Schwab listen during Thursday night's public forum in the Lyon County Courthouse Annex.

The Lyon County Republican Precinct Committee and ESU College Republicans partnered to host a candidates forum for the Kansas Secretary of State Republican Primary Thursday night in the Lyon County Courthouse Annex.

Candidates including former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Craig McCullah and representatives Keith Esau and Scott Schwab took turns answering a variety of audience-submitted questions about voting policy. A major topic of discussion concerned what each candidate would do to combat voter fraud and their opinions on the state’s ongoing voter ID case.

“There’s a lot of enhancements of cybersecurity already going on,” Esau said. “There were some articles written about the voter crosscheck and some of the other things the Secretary of State’s office was doing that exposed possible problems. Nothing ever got breached, so your voter data is currently safe, but there are some things that can be put in place to make sure that — even when we transfer data — if people got ahold of it, they wouldn’t be able to read it. We need to start doing more with the encryption of data during transfers.”

“As it relates to the current citizenship case, I think once you’re held in contempt that it’s a pretty good sign you’re going to lose the case,” Schwab added. “We will keep the voter ID case, but we will lose the citizenship piece as it relates to federal elections only. The reason why it came to be was because they said you’re going to have to have proof of ID for state races, but the feds say you don’t need it. So, we’re going to have two different types of registration, and I think the court is going to say that we can only have one. It is creating a lot of confusion for our county clerks, but at the same time, having the court system come in and tell us what our law can and cannot be is actually pretty helpful. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing a process or changing a statute.”

McCullah said many people seemed to have misconceptions about the true problems surrounding the proof of citizenship law.

“I think (Secretary of State Kris) Kobach’s goal was to make it easy to vote, but hard to cheat,” McCullah said. “The problem with this law was not that its intent was to make sure only citizens vote — that was already the law — we just wanted to make sure we had a stopgap at the front door. The problem with this law, however, was its administration. Any time the county election officers and the DMVs aren’t on the same page when it comes to election registrations, you create disparities in the law. So, if we tell you you have to provide proof of citizenship and the DMV doesn’t, you’ll think your registration is finished but it actually wasn’t. That’s what got the office in trouble.”

The candidates were also asked what, if any, new legislation they would propose if elected, but all seemed to think it was better to straighten out existing issues rather than possibly creating additional ones.

“My message is to just keep things the way they are,” Schwab said. “We’ve got 105 election commissioners that are trying to process and execute and they need training on the (Election Voter Information System). My goal is to make sure they know the legislative intent, interpret it all the same and execute it on a high level so they can provide you with election results you trust.”

Agreeing with Schwab, McCullah stated better communication was key to ensuring a fair and simple voter registration and election process.

“The ineffective way we’ve communicated to counties is causing problems for the state’s election officers,” McCullah said. “The county election officers don’t know which way to go, so photo ID and proof of citizenship — these things were passed a few years ago. If it was just the law they had to follow, I don’t think it would be that big of a deal, but it’s not. It’s a frequently changing environment in a legal sense that’s making it difficult, and we need to do a better job of getting out in front of it.”

Esau said there would most likely be future laws that impacted Kansas elections and pledged to take a proactive stance while he remained a representative.

“A lot will depend on the bills that we currently have sitting in the Senate and whether they get passed this year or not,” Esau said. “One of the most important ones is for election audits. We need to make sure that one gets passed, and so far there has been resistance from a couple of senators about even bringing it to a vote. The election audits would give us the confidence we need to make sure that paper ballots match what got counted on election night. We need to be able to verify that our voting machines are counting accurately by taking a random sample and double-checking those results.”

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