GOP candidates for Kansas treasurer will have to decide on recount before votes are certified

Rep. Steven Johnson leads Sen. Caryn Tyson by 505 votes with an unknown number of provisional ballots to be counted

By: - August 9, 2022 10:00 am
In the Republican Party's primary for state treasurer, Assaria Rep. Steven Johnson prevailed over Parker Sen. Caryn Tyson. Johnson faces state Treasurer Lynn Rogers, a Democrat, in the November general election. (Photos by Tim Carpenter and Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

In the Republican Party’s primary for state treasurer, Assaria Rep. Steven Johnson prevailed over Parker Sen. Caryn Tyson. Johnson faces state Treasurer Lynn Rogers, a Democrat, in the November general election. (Photos by Tim Carpenter and Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Republican race for state treasurer may be unresolved for at least another week, when three of the state’s largest counties certify results from the primary election and decide whether to count or discard an unknown number of provisional ballots.

But state law requires the candidates, who were separated by just 505 votes after several counties canvassed on Monday and Tuesday, to request a recount by 5 p.m. Friday. The candidate who makes the request is responsible for the cost, and state officials are uncertain about the price tag.

Steven Johnson, a state representative from Assaria, holds a narrow lead over Caryn Tyson, a state senator from Parker, in the statewide race. The winner will face Democratic state Treasurer Lynn Rogers in November.

Because the race was so close, state law requires counties to audit 10% of the ballots from every precinct by hand. Bryan Caskey, the state elections director, said about 60% of counties had finished the audit by Monday afternoon. He said the only discrepancies were from voters who marked their ballots in a way the machines couldn’t read, such as circling a candidate’s name or checking a box instead of filling it in. Those adjustments are typical in an audit, Caskey said.

Caskey said there were 24,390 provisional ballots cast in the primary election, but he didn’t know how many were cast by Republican voters. Counties determine whether a provisional ballot is valid when they meet to canvass.

On election day, 150 voters in Wichita who were turned away from a polling site in error were allowed to fill out a provisional ballot. Caskey said those ballots should be counted.

More than a dozen rural counties already have certified their results, but Johnson, Sedgwick and Shawnee counties won’t canvass until Monday, Aug. 15. That means candidates won’t “have the final answer,” Caskey said, before the deadline to request a recount.

Caskey said the latest vote totals would be reflected on the Secretary of State’s social media accounts instead of the office’s website.

There is no automatic recount in Kansas, no matter how close the race. Caskey said the cost of a recount would depend on “where we’re going to recount and how.” A candidate can choose which precincts or counties to recount, as well as the method — by hand or machine.

“We are surveying the counties and trying to obtain a menu of potential costs, but right now it’s too soon for us to have any idea, and I don’t want to hazard a guess,” Caskey said.

Rogers, the Democrat who awaits the outcome, said he was watching the race closely.

“The process is working, and we will be patient and support the dedicated effort of the county elections officials and the Secretary of State elections office to make sure every vote counts,” Rogers said. “Our Primary Election saw voters turn out in record numbers to cast ballots — some for the first time ever or first ever in a primary. This put an immense strain on dedicated poll workers and election officials that did everything they could to make sure our vote was secure and accurate.”

The number of potential provisional ballots to be counted is complicated in part by Secretary of State Scott Schwab’s refusal to turn over provisional ballot data, despite an appeals court ruling that said he was violating open records law.

Kansas voters cast thousands of provisional ballots in every election cycle, many of which can be counted if problems are corrected before canvassing. Voters can verify their signature on an advanced ballot, for instance, or bring a photo ID to the county clerk’s office if they forgot to bring it to the polling place.

Voting rights advocate Davis Hammet, who is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, has fought a three-year court battle to obtain the list of voters who cast a provisional ballot. After a court ruled the information was a public record, Schwab ordered ES&S, the state software vendor, to disable the ability to produce the report Hammet wanted. In a July 22 ruling, a Kansas Court of Appeals panel said Schwab’s actions were an illegal attempt to circumvent the Kansas Open Records Act.

Hammet asked for the records so that his nonprofit, Loud Light, could assist voters in making sure their ballots are counted. However, Schwab denied Hammet’s latest request because he has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the court order.

During a briefing with reporters on Monday, Caskey declined to say whether the office has asked ES&S to restore the reporting feature.

“That is not something that I am prepared to talk about today,” Caskey said. “Quite frankly, I’ve been worried about the post-election audit and recount.”

A spokeswoman for Schwab’s office didn’t respond to an email seeking clarity on whether the agency has asked ES&S to turn on the reporting feature or whether the information Hammet asked for had been provided to anybody else following election day.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a lifelong Kansan.

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