Debut of Johnson County’s new ES&S voting machines devolves into debacle

Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker blamed the issues in part on “slow computers.”

With the nation watching for results from hotly contested gubernatorial and congressional primaries, the debut of Johnson County’s new ES&S ExpressVote machines devolved into a debacle Tuesday night as the election office was unable to generate voting tallies.

As of 6:30 a.m., the county had still only released results from 317 of its 502 precincts – just over 60 percent of the total. With thousands of votes from the state’s most populous county unaccounted for, it’s still unclear who will emerge as the winner of closely watched statewide GOP gubernatorial primary.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Governor Jeff Colyer were locked in a tight battle, with Kobach currently leading by 541 votes out of more than 300,000 cast.

And the Democratic primary for the Kansas 3rd Congressional District was also tight, with former White House fellow Sharice Davids opening up a 492 vote lead on labor attorney Brent Welder.

Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker, a former Johnson County Republican Party chair who was appointed to the position by Kobach in 2016 after former commissioner Brian Newby left to take a job in Washington, D.C., told KMBC Tuesday around 9:15 p.m. that the county was having a hard time generating reporting data from the machines. He blamed the issues in part on “slow computers.” At that point, he predicted the vote tally would be completed by just after midnight.

But each new update added just several dozen precincts to the total, leaving voters in Kansas and news outlets across the country wondering who had won the big races.

The county commission approved the expenditure of $10.5 million on 2,000 of the ExpressVote machines in mid-May — three years after the county initially issued its request for proposals for new voting machines, but just a week after the election office made its recommendation public.

Ahead of the county commission’s vote to approve the purchase of the new machines, a competing firm filed a former complaint letter, saying that not only had the options available on the market changed significantly from the time the county issued its request for proposal back in 2015, but that the county was likely overspending.

All seven county commissioners voted in favor of purchasing the new machines.