Two days after massive errors with a new software program delayed reporting of Johnson County’s primary results until the morning after the election, Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker stood by his recommendation of vendor ES&S for a $10.5 million contract for new voting machines — and members of the board of county commissioners chided those who had been critical of Metsker’s performance in the wake of the problems.
At the Board of County Commissioners meeting in Olathe Thursday, Metsker gave an update on Tuesday’s election in which he highlighted the parts of the roll out of the new ExpressVote system that had gone smoothly, noting that the 1,100 new machines themselves had performed well. As for the serious problems with the software used to generate vote tallies, he said ES&S had taken “full ownership of the failure of their system.”
Some members of the board of county commissioners used Thursday’s meeting to defend Metsker and thank him for his service. District 5 Commissioner Michael Ashcraft and District 6 Commissioner Michael Brown explicitly addressed calls for Metsker to resign, saying they were uncalled for.
“I think it is sad, very sad, that some sources have called for your resignation, and somehow tried to label you as a scapegoat for this,” Ashcraft said. “You have just been a stellar example of what good government is, what dedicated public service is and for someone or some group to suggest you should resign for this is just, I don’t know what the word for this is, but it’s just sad. You have my full faith and support.”
Brown specifically called out the Kansas City Star’s editorial board, saying their suggestion Metsker should resign after two major elections that saw long reporting delays was unfounded, calling the piece “reckless and irresponsible.”
The seven members of the board of county commissioners voted unanimously to approve Metsker’s recommendation of the ES&S system in May, just a week after Metsker made it public. That 7-0 vote came after a competing firm filed a formal complaint saying that the county was likely spending too much and may be getting dated technology because it was making the purchase off a proposal that went out three years earlier.
On Thursday, Metsker and County Chair Ed Eilert stressed that the contract with ES&S had not been fully executed at this point, and that the company would not receive payment for the products until they had proven the system works. Eilert and Metsker met with ES&S representatives on Wednesday to communicate their expectations of the company.
“They got the message,” Eilert said Thursday.
Metsker stands by ES&S, calling company “incredible”
Speaking with reporters after his presentation to the commission, Metsker said ES&S had not provided his office with an estimate of when their analysis of what caused the problems would be complete, but he steadfastly defended the company.
“They have not informed us yet what their timetable is, but I am confident they will deal with this forthrightly and quickly,” he said.
Asked if he had any regrets about recommending an ES&S product for the county’s new voting system — particularly in light of the fact that the county was using older ES&S machines in November 2016 when the office also saw massive tabulating and reporting delays — Metsker stood by his decision.
“I have absolutely no regrets. This is an incredible company. And I know they will make this right,” Metsker said. “While I am very disappointed in the performance, obviously, I am not disappointed in the vendor. And I think we need to allow time to make this right.”
Metsker acknowledged that the particular combination of hardware and software his Johnson County Election Office authorized putting into the field for Tuesday’s elections had never been used in an election anywhere in the country.
That struck Janeé Hanzlick, the former SAFEHOME executive who is challenging District 4 Commissioner Jason Osterhaus for a seat on the board, as problematic. Hanzlick, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said she walked away from Metsker’s presentation and the commissioners’ comments with a number of concerns and questions.
“The questions I have are did the Johnson County commission ask enough questions before authorizing $10.5 million on an untested voting machine system,” Hanzlick said. “And why did Johnson County choose to be the guinea pig for this system? Especially in this critical election?”
She was particularly struck by Metsker’s insistence that a “learning curve” was to be expected with a new system.
“I think we should have expected a much higher level of service than a learning curve,” Hanzlick said. “I said this a few months ago when they approved the purchase of the system. I questioned whether there had been enough research into these systems, especially when we were looking at a proposal that was almost three years old.”