Judge: Johnson County wrong to refuse request for rejected ballots

photo by: Associated Press

Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker speaks during the Johnson County Board of Canvassers, Monday, Aug. 13, 2018, in Olathe, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

OVERLAND PARK — A judge has ruled that election officials in Kansas’ largest county violated open records law by refusing to provide names of hundreds of people whose provisional ballots were not counted in last August’s primary.

Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, asked for the names of 898 people whose ballots were thrown out and for justification on why they didn’t count. Johnson County election commissioner Ronnie Metsker rejected Hammet’s request, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union to join Hammet in a lawsuit.

District Judge David Hauber ruled in Hammet’s favor on Thursday, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Metsker didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the ruling.

“Now elections officials know that whenever they throw out a ballot people will know, and so they need to be really strict about standards,” Hammet said.

Hammet said the suburban Kansas City county didn’t try to notify people before rejecting their ballots, which were dismissed without knowledge of the voters’ party affiliation or how they voted. He said he plans to notify people that their votes didn’t count and those people could consider pursuing a legal challenge.

Of the 898 ballots dismissed for a variety of reasons, 153 were rejected under a state law that requires the signature on an advanced ballot to exactly match the signature on file from when the person registered to vote.

The signature matching law was introduced in Kansas by former Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The ACLU has successfully challenged similar laws elsewhere.

Kobach, who appointed Metsker to oversee Johnson County elections, defeated Gov. Jeff Colyer by 343 votes in the August primary race for the GOP nomination for governor.

Lauren Bonds, interim executive director for ACLU Kansas, said people should know whether their vote counted.

“Voting rights advocates now have the information they need to ensure election integrity and help provisional voters make sure their ballots count,” Bonds said.


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