Kansas voters to decide constitutional amendment question on election of county sheriffs

Measure applies to 104 counties statewide, with Riley County the lone exception

By: - April 27, 2022 8:13 am
Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, introduced a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution approved by the Legislature for inclusion on November statewide ballot. The measure will be decided by a majority voting. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, introduced a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution approved by the Legislature for inclusion on November statewide ballot. The measure will be decided by a majority voting. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The November general election ballot added girth in terms of verbiage with adoption of a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution requiring election rather than appointment of county sheriffs.

On Tuesday, the House affirmed a final version of House Concurrent Resolution 5022 previously endorsed by the Senate. It passed 91-31 in the House and 39-1 in the Senate — above the required two-thirds majorities necessary to place the amendment on statewide ballots.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican running for governor, lobbied for the amendment and vowed to campaign for passage of the amendment related to election of sheriffs and potential removal of sheriffs.

“The office of sheriff has deep historical roots and the longstanding practice of election rather than appointment makes sheriffs uniquely accountable to the people,” Schmidt said.

The resolution would require election of sheriffs in all counties that hadn’t abolished the office of sheriff by Jan. 11, 2022, and would set a standard four-year term for sheriff. Riley County would be exempt from the constitutional provision because the county eliminated the position of sheriff in 1974. The county would be able to recreate the position of sheriff, under the amendment, but that decision would become irrevocable.

In addition, the amendment would declare the only method of involuntarily removing a sheriff would be a recall election or a process initiated by the attorney general.

The issue gained traction in the Legislature because of discussion in Johnson County about making the sheriff an appointed position rather than keeping it an elective office. Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden, a conservative who launched a controversial investigation into unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, was opposed to that change.

“In our view, the office of sheriff should remain an elected office, not subject to the political whims of appointing bodies,” said Greg Smith, who works for Hayden as a special deputy. “This leaves the sheriff free to be able to respond to any situation as his or her training and experience dictate.”

Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat seeking re-election in November, doesn’t have authority to veto proposed constitutional amendments. If that two-thirds threshold is met in the House and Senate, the question goes to voters. A simply majority of those voting on the constitutional amendment will decide its fate.

Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, introduced the constitutional amendment and lauded the opportunity for Kansans to make the final decision on the issue.

“It allows the people of the state to tell us what they want to do,” he said.

However, Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, said she was uneasy with placing ouster authority in hands of the attorney general rather than local prosecutors.

“This is a really big change to our governing system,” she said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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