Tuesday’s too-close-to-call Republican primary election for Kansas governor has plunged the state into an ethics crisis. Secretary of State Kris Kobach emerged with a 121-vote lead over incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, and a recount appears inevitable. But Kobach, the most prominent national advocate for policies that make it harder to vote, is in charge of overseeing the state’s elections. After days of mounting pressure, Kobach on Friday agreed grudgingly to let his top deputy oversee the recount. Still, that doesn’t negate the glaring conflicts of interest in a race where a candidate has shaped the state’s election policies from the start and, if he emerges on top, will oversee his general-election race this fall.
The episode highlights an oddity of state-level politics: secretaries of state presiding over their own elections. This year, three Republican secretaries of state with a history of restricting access to the ballot will be presiding over elections in which they are a candidate for higher office. The potential for conflict is not new, nor is it not limited to one party. But in an era where voting rights are an increasingly partisan issue, having politicians overseeing elections—particularly their own—creates an additional incentive for dishonest or politically motivated election oversight.