Kansas anti-abortion activists secure $119K for nine-county recount on abortion amendment

Colby resident falls short of $229K needed for a statewide hand recount

By: and - August 15, 2022 6:57 pm
Melissa Leavitt appears Monday in a video she posted on TikTok about her request for a statewide recount of the vote on constitutional amendment on abortion. Anti-abortion activists raised $119,600 to the finance a nine-county recount instead of the statewide review of ballots. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from TikTok)

Melissa Leavitt appears Monday in a video she posted on TikTok about her request for a statewide recount of the vote on constitutional amendment on abortion. Anti-abortion activists raised $119,600 to the finance a nine-county recount instead of the statewide review of ballots. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from TikTok)

TOPEKA — Anti-abortion activists incredulous about defeat of a Kansas constitutional amendment Monday dropped plans for a statewide recount of votes by earmarking $119,600 for a ballot-by-ballot review in populous Sedgwick, Johnson, Shawnee and Douglas counties and five others.

The campaign to raise $229,300 for a hand count in all 105 counties didn’t succeed by the 5 p.m. deadline, but sufficient resources were gathered to proceed with a nine-county recount that also included Crawford, Harvey, Jefferson, Lyon and Thomas counties.

The Kansas secretary of state’s office said the required bond from challengers of the Aug. 2 vote had been accepted. The nine counties were instructed to begin a hand recount of votes cast on the Value Them Both amendment, said Whitney Tempel, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Scott Schwab.

In the August primary election, the proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution declaring women didn’t have a constitutional right to abortion in Kansas was rejected 59% to 41% with 920,000 votes cast statewide. Prior to the election, limited polling indicated the vote would be close with opponents of abortion likely winning a majority.

Colby resident Melissa Leavitt, who initiated the recount effort, said she appreciated the “awesome donor who backed us” with funding required by the secretary of state to proceed with the limited recount.

“My nerves have been on end, but you know what, we’ve had tons of prayers and tons of people fighting with us,” Leavitt said. “America: Kansas is in this to win it. We are just praying for exposure of anything that might have been nefarious and just some answers to put the voters of Kansas at peace.”

Through an online fundraiser, Leavitt received commitments of $40,000 from 600 donors. The contributor making up the $80,000 difference wasn’t identified by Leavitt.

Brian Caskey, director of elections for Secretary of State Scott Schwab, said an amount equal to the cost of a limited or full recount had to be presented to the office by 5 p.m. Monday. That bond could be posted in the form of cash, check or credit card with a sufficient line of credit

“Failure to do so will result in the recount request being cancelled,” Caskey said in a notice to Leavitt.

Ashley All, spokeswoman for the amendment opponent organization Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, said justification for the recount was a mystery.

“Kansans across the political spectrum voted overwhelmingly against this amendment,” All said. “In fact, 165,000 more Kansans voted ‘no.’ They sent a clear message that they want to protect the constitutional rights of women to make private medical decisions for themselves.”

In the nine counties targeted by the recount, a majority in eight counties voted against the abortion amendment. The strength of opposition ranged from 53% in Harvey County to 81% in Douglas County. Thomas County, with 68% supporting the amendment, was the lone county in the recount that voted to approve it.

Early Monday, Kansas Coalition for Life chairman Mark Gietzen of Wichita pledged to identify the $229,600 sought by Leavitt. He offered to put up his home to secure the bond required to order a statewide recount, but Schwab’s office said the offer of a such property didn’t comply within guidelines of state law.

Gietzen had said a recount of all 105 counties would be conducted “unless we get screwed over” by the secretary of state’s office. By end of the day, Gietzen dipped into a retirement account to support the recount effort.

“The truth is,” he said, “who knows who won the vote.”

Gietzen tangled with the secretary of state’s office in the past. He alleged — without evidence — the Kansas election earlier this month was distorted by “massive” election fraud through “ballot harvesting.” He asserted people illegally obtained, filled out and deposited ballots in drop boxes.

He also filed a lawsuit in Sedgwick County before the August primary to stop use of drop boxes, but it was tossed by a judge.

Leavitt said she prayed a miracle occurred in terms of procuring resources to allow for a recount. She said she received “a lot of hate messages” since going public last week with her appeal.

“What else can you do when you take a leap of faith?” she said on a social media. “There was no reason to go into this with a hateful energy against those who voted one way or another. Whichever way you chose to vote, it matters that it is properly counted.”

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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.

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.