Transparency in government is an issue in Kansas and the problem can be illustrated by the upcoming hearings at the statehouse on election security, according to Janice Walker, president of the Barton County chapter of the League of Women Voters Kansas (LWVK).
During a program Monday in Great Bend featuring Clay Wirestone, opinion editor of the Kansas Reflector, Walker took a few minutes to talk about hearings set for next week in Topeka before the Kansas Legislature.
Wirestone indicated they were on the same page.
“Everyone needs to pay attention to this,” he told the audience of about 45 people that filled a meeting room at the Front Door facility. “This is wild.”
On Sept. 28-29, the Kansas Legislature will have a two-day hearing on elections, Walker said. “Our election process is being reviewed. Even though there’s no evidence of fraud, the integrity of our election process, I think, is being questioned. People who are reporting on it are from out-of-state groups. One is the Liberty Lions League ...”
Another group involved is the Foundation for Government Accountability, Wirestone said.
“We (the League of Women Voters) have submitted testimony, written testimony, (because) there was no room for any face-to-face,” Walker said. “It was all taken up. Written testimony had to be submitted by 5 o’clock on Sept. 11, even though the hearings don’t even start until Sept. 28. It’s kind of like they just set it up the way they wanted to set it up, and they don’t want to hear from people.”
“They don’t; you’re right,” Wirestone said. “This is a really important thing to understand when you look at how transparency or lack of transparency works in the Kansas statehouse. It’s not about whether people can speak, it’s about who speaks and how much and who’s given the platform and who’s given the time and who’s given the notice.
“But it’s really symptomatic of a larger issue, which is the way hearings are often happening in the statehouse,” Wirestone said.
“In an actual bill hearing, there are certain limits and restrictions on how you’re supposed to handle testimony,” he noted. “But if it’s an informational hearing, it can essentially be set up however the lawmakers want. So what they would do in the last session is set up informational hearings on subjects and then have their handpicked people show up and testify, and then move for emergency action on a bill after the informational hearing. So in other words, cutting off the ability of people to even show up in some cases or to testify at all.”
Before joining the Kansas Reflector, Wirestone worked in the nonprofit advocacy sector with Kansas Action for Children. “So I know a lot of people in that space,” he said. “The stories that I could tell you – about, ‘Oh, the deadline has passed to submit the written testimony.’ ‘Oh, we don’t have time for you to show up in person to talk to the committee.’ All of this stuff, because these committee hearings – which are traditionally supposed to be (so lawmakers can) learn about an issue globally – they are dog and pony shows. They are set up by members with a partisan agenda to show a very particular narrative.”
He suspects that is what is happening with the election hearings, but in this case the public has been alerted. “The alarms are going off that this is going to happen.”
For example, the Wichita Eagle and the Kansas City Star have now published opinion pieces on the hearings, saying they give credence to debunked claims that the 2020 election was “stolen.”
“I expect that people will write good stories about it,” Wirestone said. “The problem is, you can write stories saying that people are believing things that aren’t true. But in writing those stories, you do say the things that are not true – and it’s hard to avoid that.”
On the agenda
On Tuesday, in a follow-up with the Great Bend Tribune, Walker provided the following information from Cille King, LWVK advocacy chair:
“We are concerned about the Special Committee on Elections hearings Thursday and Friday, Sept. 28-29. In addition to the usual reports from Legislative Research, Post Audit, Revisor’s Office, Secretary of State’s attorney, and a former legislator, Chair Mike Thomson has filled both days’ agenda with testimony from two groups; the Foundation for Government Accountability (https://thefga.org) and Liberty Lions League, which previously testified before the Kansas Legislature in 2022.”
Expressing concern about “the lack of public opportunity to address the committee with other viewpoints,” King told members the committee will hear about election laws, voter registration and legal issues, election security, voter roll maintenance, advance voting, advance ballot deadlines, the three-day grace period for mail ballots, voting machine integrity/software-security, and remote ballot drop boxes and ballot harvesting.
She urged members to look online at https://www.cisa.gov/rumor-vs-reality, an official website of the U.S. government and Department of Homeland Security. This web page “refutes election rumors with reality checks,” she said. “Some of the rumors addressed by the CISA link are on the agenda for the Special Committee on Elections: Voting machine integrity, voting machine software and security, and remote ballot drop boxes/ballot harvesting.”