District Attorney finds no ‘ill intent’ in Hillcrest Covenant poll agent incident that generated complaints in August

Some voters at Hillcrest Covenant in August were taken aback by the presence of a poll agent at the voter check-in table, a violation of a law that requires them to stay back three feet.
Some voters at Hillcrest Covenant in August were taken aback by the presence of a poll agent at the voter check-in table, a violation of a law that requires them to stay back three feet.

Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe said Monday that his office had finished its review of an incident involving a poll agent at Hillcrest Covenant Church during the August primaries and determined that there would be no action taken against the man.

According to several voters who cast their votes at Hillcrest, a poll agent was seated at the check-in table, a violation of the statute that prevents anyone from coming within three-feet of the table used by the election board. As each voter came to check in, the agent entered their names into his cell phone.

The man had been hired by political consultant Stephanie Sharp, who works with the campaigns of a number of northeast Johnson County politicians, to serve as a poll observer. The man, Seth McDairmant, was texting the names of each voter who came in to Sharp, who was using the information to reference a list of likely voters — an activity allowed under election law.

“The poll watchers text the names of people who are voting, and we know we don’t have to call those folks to remind them to vote. Pretty basic stuff,” Sharp said in an email. “This is [standard operating procedure] for the Democrat operatives, but Republican candidates have never done it because the tech hasn’t been there.”

After receiving complaints about McDairmant’s presence at the table, Johnson County Election Commissioner Brian Newby forwarded a report on the incident to Howe’s office for review — but he made clear that the collection of data about which voters come to the polls is legal.

“The information in the poll book is public record, according to the Kansas Open Records Act, and there is no legal restriction on what data a poll agent collects at the location when sitting and observing, or how this information is tracked,” he wrote in response to one voter’s inquiry about the situation.

Howe said Monday that though the agent had clearly violated the three-foot rule, the investigator had determined there was no “ill intent.”

“There was no indication that this person had any impact on any voter whatsoever,” he said. “I think it’s an opportunity to make sure there’s an educational piece moving forward.”

This was the first incident of its kind in Howe’s six years in office, he said.

Each poll agent is required to register as representing an individual candidate, and McDairmant was registered as representing District 19 Rep. Stephanie Saywer Clayton, who defeated challenger Jennifer Flood 68-32 in the primary. Clayton said Monday she hasn’t met McDairmant.

“I knew that there was a poll agent there, but had no role in the interviewing/hiring/training of the individual,” she said. “I don’t even know their gender, let alone their name.”

Newby said last week that he intended to reinforce information about the three-foot statute in poll agent training in the near future.

“I will be stunned — flabergasted — if voters experience this again,” he said.