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After Two Years, Johnson County Still Hasn't Spent $13 Million To Replace Voting Machines

Peggy Lowe
KCUR 89.3

While other big counties in Kansas have already bought new voting machines that create a paper trail, Johnson County has yet to upgrade their machines despite having the money to do so.

In 2016, the Johnson County Commission approved $13 million to replace the county’s 15-year-old voting machines.

At the time, the state’s four biggest counties, Johnson, Wyandotte, Shawnee and Sedgwick, together started shopping for new machines to save money.

The other counties are already using their new machines that print paper ballots, a feature that insures accurate recounts.

Johnson County election commissioner Ronnie Metsker says he’s been more deliberate for several reasons. The county has 209 voting places. Sedgwick County has fewer than 100. Because Johnson County is so much bigger, storage of the machines and training of workers is far more complicated.

“This is becoming a bigger deal to everyone in every state across the country,” Metsker says.

The printed ballots generated by newer-style voting machines have already proved their usefulness in Sedgwick County, according to Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman. During a recount last year in a close race for Haysville mayor, the paper ballots confirmed the machine tally. Sedgwick spent $5.7 million on its new voting machines, according to Lehman.

Shawnee County purchased the same machines for $1.8 million in 2016 and the county is "very pleased" with them, according to Election Commissioner Andrew Howell.

Metsker says he hopes to have new machines for the August primary. If not, it will be 2019 before Johnson County has new voting machines. It's impossible to change machines and train workers in the short time before the primary and the general election in November, says Metsker.

He also says this is a decision that the county will have to live with for the next ten years at least so they want to get this right.

Sam Zeffis KCUR's Metro Reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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