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Johnson County Primary Voting Saga Continues As ACLU Sues County Election Commissioner

Scott Canon
Kansas News Servcie
The ACLU of Kansas is suing Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker to gain access to a list of provisional ballot voters, and those whose votes didn't count.

The ACLU of Kansas is now suing Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker to gain access to lists of 900 voters who filed provisional ballots and about 150 voters whose advance ballots were not counted in the August primary. 

It's the latest in an ongoing saga over the controversial Johnson County primary, which involved a serious delay in vote counting and a technical glitch in the county's new, $10.5 million voting machines.

The lawsuit is filed on behalf of Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, a nonprofit working to increase voter turnout. He's suing after being denied access to the lists, but more than that, he said, he's concerned there are bigger issues in the county. 

"Last election, they said the machines were too old and that's why they crashed and had problems, and now the machines are too new and that's why they crashed and had problems," Hammet said. "There's just a real issue in Johnson County with election administration." 

With the GOP primary for governor decided by a couple hundred votes, ACLU spokesperson Mark McCormick said taking a look at the votes could be important.

"The context of how this happened is one thing, but what we're really fighting for is the idea of transparency," McCormick said. "This information ought to be available, and we're arguing the law says this information should be made available."

McCormick clarified the ACLU is not seeking personal information on these individuals, adding that who they voted for should be given the "utmost privacy." He pointed out that the Kansas Secretary of State's website discloses voter history.

"And yet, in our attempt to get this information, we've been denied it," McCormick said.

Metsker was appointed to his position for a new four-year term by Secretary of State Kris Kobach after the August primary, in which Kobach narrowly defeated incumbent Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer by a few hundred votes. 

With the access he's requested, Hammet suggested he may be able to help those voters fix their issues before November's election, which include signatures that don't match, or voters not bringing their IDs.

Through open records requests, Hammet said he also discovered the county is not informing people their votes weren't counted. 

"It is not only problematic because it prevents us from helping those people, but it also appears to be a clear statutory violation," he said. 

The lawsuit says Metsker has violated the Kansas Open Records Act and asks the court to order he turn over the documents requested. 

Metsker did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @_tudhope

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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