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Kansas recounted 550,000 ballots after the abortion amendment lost. Only about 60 votes changed

080222_DC_Voting sign at polling place in Hays
David Condos
/
Kansas News Service
A polling location in Hays, Kansas.

Abortion opponents requested the recount in nine counties after making unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. The recount showed the amendment still lost by wide margins.

The Kansas secretary of state’s office said a recount of the abortion amendment vote in nine counties only changed about 60 votes.

The final numbers on the recount published by the secretary of state’s office show the hand recount of 556,364 votes in nine counties increased votes in favor of the amendment by six and reduced the votes against the amendment by 57.

Counties wrapped up their counting over the weekend. One anti-abortion advocate who promised to help pay the estimated $120,000 cost now says he won’t pay for the recount in Sedgwick County because it went beyond the original deadline. And he’s threatened to file a lawsuit requesting a full recount in the state.

It’s the latest effort as a group of abortion opponents tout unproven claims of election fraud and call into question the results of the landslide rejection of the amendment.

Republican Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab said the result shows that there’s no fraud in the Kansas election system.

“Kansans should be confident that these results put to rest the unfounded claims of election fraud in our state and know that our elections are secure and that their vote counted,” Schwab said in a statement.

In total, there were more than 920,000 ballots cast on the amendment. If it had passed, it would have removed abortion rights from the Kansas Constitution. Voters rejected it by roughly a 165,000-vote margin, or 18 percentage points.

The recount came after Melissa Leavitt, of Colby in far northwestern Kansas, demanded the double-check of the vote. She has pressed for tighter election laws and started an online fundraiser to help pay for a recount.

But the state only conducts recounts when the margin is tight or when some private individual pays for the work to go over votes by hand. Advocates didn’t have the money for a full statewide recount, so they instead targeted nine counties for the cost of $120,000. Mark Gietzen, a long-time anti-abortion activist from Wichita, had said he would cover most of the cost.

Both Gietzen and Leavitt have suggested there could have been irregularities in the election. Yet they’ve offered no specifics or evidence.

“We are just praying for exposure of anything that may have been nefarious,” Leavitt said in a social media post before the recount. “And just some answers to put the voters of Kansas at peace.”

The vote, particularly the nearly 60-40 margin, caught political analysts by surprise. Anti-abortion conservatives in the Legislature put the measure on the Aug. 2 ballot 18 months earlier. They counted on the traditionally strong turnout of Republican voters for primaries — and a correspondingly historically low primary turnout for Democrats — to all but lock down the passage of the amendment.

But just six weeks before the vote, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe V. Wade case that had enshrined abortion rights across the country for half a century. That instantly gave states the power to ban abortions — dramatically raising the stakes for the August vote in Kansas.

The amendment wouldn’t have changed abortion rules on its own. But it would have essentially wiped out a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in 2019 that said the state constitution guarantees abortion rights. Had the amendment passed, the Legislature could have then passed a ban.

Voter registration in Kansas shot up in the weeks after the ruling. That was followed by a record turnout for a primary — surpassing even what the state’s seen in presidential election years.

Anti-abortion activists have characterized the loss as a temporary setback. But the runaway win for abortion rights forces in a deep-red state like Kansas drew international interest. It’s fueled speculation that more Americans might support abortion rights than previously thought, and has been seen as a harbinger that losses by Democrats in the congressional mid-term elections might be less dramatic.

It also came at a moment when Americans’ faith in their elections is waning and former President Donald Trump’s insistence, widely disproven, that he won reelection in 2020. Still, even Gietzen told the Associated Press he didn’t expect the recount to change the outcome.

Kansas law requires a recount only if the person asking for it proves they can cover the cost a county takes on to hire people to go over the ballots another time. A county could get stuck with that bill — if the recount reversed the outcome of the vote.

But some of the counties caught up in the recount underestimated the cost, putting taxpayers on the hook for overruns.

Stephen Koranda is the news editor for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @Stephen_Koranda or email him at stephenkoranda (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. 

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to the Kansas News Service.

As the Kansas News Service news editor, I help our statewide team of reporters find the important issues and breaking news that impact people statewide. We refine our daily stories to illustrate the issues and events that affect the health, well-being and economic stability of the people of Kansas. Email me at skoranda@kcur.org.
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