Kansas Secretary of State and Republic gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach has appointed Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker to a new four year term on Thursday.
Metsker, who Kobach appointed to the role in 2016 after former Election Commissioner Brian Newby moved to a job with the federal Election Assistance Commission, had his current term in the post set to expire today.
Metsker was paid $105,358 as election commissioner in 2017, according to Kansas OpenGov.
Under decades-old Kansas law, the Kansas Secretary of State is granted the power to appoint the election commissioner of counties with populations above 130,000 — currently, that’s Johnson, Sedgwick, Wyandotte and Shawnee. The initial impetus for that law was to try to ensure that local politics did not have influence on the oversight and administration of elections in large, complex counties.
But the current staffing and chain-of-command in the Johnson County Election Office has attracted scrutiny in the wake of the botched roll out of the county’s new voting system earlier this month.
The Kansas City Star reported on Thursday that Metsker and Kobach appeared to have spoken twice on the phone election night — when the state was waiting to see whether Johnson County’s votes would tip the balance in the GOP primary to Kobach or Colyer.
And Metsker will be in charge of overseeing Johnson County’s vote in what appears to be an exceptionally close gubernatorial race, where polls have Kobach and Democrat Laura Kelly within just a point of each other, this November.
Metsker, who was chair of the Johnson County Republican Party prior to being named election commissioner, recommended the $10.5 million ES&S ExpressVote system that the county debuted in the primaries. A software error led to massive reporting delays that proved an embarrassment — it was the second major election in a row where Johnson County was not able to report a final vote tally until hours after other counties.
ES&S officials took responsibility for the errors and said the day after the election that it was “working around the clock” to identify the issue. But it took the company nearly three weeks to report back to the county that it had found the source of the problem and rewritten the code. And the new code still has to be approved by federal officials before it can be used in November’s election.
The county has stressed that it will not be paying for the ES&S machines until it is satisfied that the system works as expected. But Metsker has stood by ES&S, saying the company was “incredible” and that he had “no regrets” about recommending them for the contract.