Thousands of write-ins on Johnson County ballots will delay updated totals in Kobach-Colyer race until Tuesday afternoon

Observers representing Gov. Jeff Colyer and Sec. of State Kris Kobach sat in the front row of the crowded canvass meeting at the Johnson County Election Office this morning.

Kansans will have to wait until 4 p.m. Tuesday to find out how Johnson County’s official election results will change the angles in the neck-and-neck race between Kris Kobach and Jeff Colyer for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

The canvass board, which is made up of the board of county commissioners and the county administrator, agreed this morning to recess until tomorrow to give the election office time to tally 1,451 provisional ballots as well as more than 10,000 write in votes that have to be counted by hand.

Former Kansas GOP director Clay Barker, now a special assistant to Gov. Jeff Colyer, and Olathe Rep. Erin Davis observed the canvass meeting on behalf of Colyer’s campaign.

Many of those write-in votes come in the bottom-of-the-ballot precinct committeeman and committeewoman races that determine the official party representatives for each of the county’s more than 1,000 precincts.

With just 110 votes separating Kobach and Colyer in the count currently posted on the Kansas Secretary of State’s website — Kobach leads Colyer 127,211 to 127,101 — Johnson County’s provisional vote totals could easily swing the GOP election one way or the other.

Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker told the canvass board Monday that his office had reviewed 2,349 challenged and provisional ballots cast in Tuesday’s election and received through the mail. Of those, his office recommended counting 1,176 in their entirety and parts of 275 additional ballots.

The 1,176 figure included 57 unaffiliated voters who were incorrectly instructed by poll workers to cast provisional ballot. Under state law, unaffiliated voters are permitted to declare for a party at their polling location and cast a standard ballot for that party. Metsker said the issue was caused by a poll worker’s error, and that the problem was limited to a single voting site.

Most of the ballots in the partial category had votes disqualified because the ballots were cast at the wrong polling place and the voter was therefore not eligible to participate in certain local elections. The votes cast for statewide or federal office on those ballots, however, were approved for consideration in the official total results.

Attorney Keith Mark observed the canvass meeting for the Kobach campaign.

Metsker also recommended the complete disqualification of 898 ballots, which were deemed invalid for a variety of reasons. Two hundred seventy two of the ballots were eliminated because the voter had not changed party affiliations properly and had therefore cast a ballot for a party primary where they were not registered. Another 219 ballots were eliminated because the election office determined the voter wasn’t registered at all. And 153 of the ballots were eliminated because the election office determined that the signature on the envelope on a mail-in ballot did not match the signature of a voter that the election office had on file. Metsker said election workers undergo extensive training to be able to determine whether signatures are a match or not.

Prior to the board recessing, District 6 commissioner Mike Brown asked Metsker and county attorney Don Jarrett about instructions the Kansas Secretary of State’s office had issued over the weekend about how certain types of challenged or provisional ballots should be processed by election officials.

Brown asked Jarrett whether the instructions Johnson County had received were “definitive” with “little or no ambiguity.”

Jarrett responded that “We do have to interpret and look at it. And we have done that.”

“Would it be fair to say that there are 105 counties that are interpreting this in a direction and way that they choose?” Brown asked.

Jarrett said he thought it would be relatively consistent, but that there could be variance in interpretations of how to proceed in certain situations.

“Conformity is important to me,” Brown said, shaking his head.