Kansas Republican gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach, with his wife Heather Kobach, on election night in Topeka. Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state, ultimately recused himself from oversight of the contested vote count and potential recount. (Photo: Steve Pope/Getty Images.)
By Jennifer Cohn
Officials in Johnson County, Kansas, said Sunday the public would not be permitted on Monday to view the county’s tabulation of provisional votes cast in last week’s contested and controversial elections.
Those elections include the Republican gubernatorial primary race between Trump-endorsed Kris Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state, and sitting Gov. Jeff Colyer. They also include the Democratic primary race for the state’s Third District House seat between, among others, Brent Welder (a labor attorney and former National Field Director for the Teamsters union who has held key campaign positions with Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders) and Sharice Davids (an openly gay, Native American and former professional mixed martial arts fighter who graduated from Cornell Law School in 2010 and worked as a White House Fellow under the Obama and Trump administrations).
On Thursday, at the request of TYT Investigates, I jumped on a plane to investigate significant delays and related problems in Johnson County involving new voting equipment that the County used for the first time during its August 7 primary elections.
Johnson County bought its new equipment—the ExpressVote touchscreen barcode balloting system made by Election Systems & Software, LLC—upon the recommendation of County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker, who was appointed by Kobach in February 2016. I have previously written about the dangers of touchscreen barcode balloting systems like the ExpressVote.
Before leaving for Kansas, I told the Johnson County Election Office that I was coming and that I hoped to see the ExpressVote and speak with Metsker and other county election officials on Frdiay. An office representative told me that it should not be a problem to at least see an ExpressVote machine and that someone would get back to me.
No one ever did. On Friday, at about noon, I arrived at the Johnson County Election Office with a camera operator. In the lobby, county representatives told us that Metsker was the only person authorized to show us the machines, confirm where they were warehoused, discuss what happened on Election Day, and advise whether provisional ballots were being sorted within the building where we sat. For the next five hours, county representatives repeatedly told TYT and other waiting media that Metsker was “unavailable” but that they would let us know when this changed. It never did.
On Sunday, I emailed one of the County representatives with whom I had spoken to confirm that the public would be able to observe the tabulation of provisional ballots Monday. This is the initial response I received: “The public will not view the tabulating … of provisional ballots tomorrow.”
Asked whether this meant that the county was forbidding public observation of the tabulation of provisional ballots, the same official replied:
“I have visited with the Johnson County Legal Department. You are asking to see work in progress by the election board and staff as they prepare for canvass. State statutes provide means for the canvassing process to be observed by poll agents and the public, but that does not cover all research and preparation work. If you would like to review the requirements for a poll agent, please see the Secretary of State’s website and Kansas Statute 25-3005.”
County commissioners were set to meet Monday morning at 9 in Olathe as the Johnson County Board of County Canvassers. It was not immediately clear whether the commissioners would be canvassing all the votes, or which elements of the canvassing would be public, if any. TYT will continue to provide updates on this story.
Jennifer Cohn is an election-integrity advocate. TYT has asked her to investigate the transparency and verifiability of last week’s voting in Kansas and write a first-person chronicle of her efforts. You can follow her on Twitter here.