Election office, vendor provide few details on cause of 13-hour Johnson County results reporting delay

Johnson County’s new ExpressVote system had major reporting problems Tuesday.

Calling the 13 hours from the time polls closed Tuesday it took to report final voting figures “frustrating” and “unacceptable,” the Johnson County Election Office on Tuesday said it was working to “identify the cause of the delay, resolve the issue, and ensure the problem does not happen again.”

But an explanatory statement issued by ES&S, the company that received a $10.5 million contract in May to provide the county with a new voting machine system, gives only a vague indication of where the troubles originated.

Here’s the statement:

The secure tabulated results for the Johnson County August 7 Primary Election were physically transported to the Election office in a timely manner at the close of polls. The delay in reporting results was due to slow processing of the election media on encrypted thumb drives. Despite slower than normal processing, the reporting is now complete, and the accuracy of the results was never in question.

Johnson County followed proper procedures in conducting their election. ES&S takes accountability for and apologizes for the slower than normal upload of results. The ES&S development team is working around the clock, performing a forensic analysis, to identify the root cause of the slow results reporting. ES&S is committed to expeditiously providing a solution.

Kobach with Metsker at a Johnson County Republican Party Elephant Club event in 2011.

It was the second major election in a row that saw the Johnson County Election Office experience major reporting delays.

In November 2016, the first major election after Ronnie Metsker took over as Election Commissioner, the Johnson County Election Office wasn’t able to produce final tallies until 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Metsker attributed those problems to a flood of absentee ballots that needed to be processed, the misplacement of 2,100 ballots during the tallying process following the close of polls, and issues with the county’s dated voting machines, which were also produced by ES&S.

Though the county had issued its initial request for proposal for a new voting machine system in 2015, Metsker did not make a recommendation for the purchase of a new system to the board of county commissioners until May 2018. The board of county commissioners unanimously approved Metsker’s recommendation to spend $10.5 million on the new ES&S ExpressVote system a week after the recommendation was made public, despite election integrity advocates raising concerns about the security of the ES&S machines and a competing firm filing a formal protest saying the county was likely spending too much and that better technology had been developed since the initial RFP went out in 2015.

In interviews following Tuesday’s long delays — the final results weren’t posted until 8 a.m. Wednesday — Metsker said the problems were “embarrassing for our office, it’s embarrassing for me, for our team and for the vendor.”

Under state statute, the Kansas Secretary of State has the authority to appoint the Election Commissioner in the state’s four most populous counties. Sec. of State Kris Kobach appointed Metsker, who was then the chair of the Johnson County Republican Party, to the position following the exit of Election Commissioner Brian Newby for a job with the Election Assistance Commission in Washington, D.C.

The Kansas Secretary of State has oversight authority for the Johnson County Election Commissioner. The Board of County Commissioners does not have the authority to hire or fire the Johnson County Election Commissioner.

On Wednesday, Kobach indicated he was supportive of Metsker in the office saying “I do have faith in Ronnie.”

But scrutiny of Metsker’s performance in office — he was paid a salary of $105,000 for his role as Election Commissioner in 2017 — is increasing following the second major reporting failure in a row for big elections. On Wednesday, the Kansas City Star editorial board called on him to resign.