Government & Politics

ACLU sues for names of Johnson County voters whose ballots were rejected

Johnson County Election Commissioner confident November’s general election will be smooth sailing

During a discussion Monday, Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker and a representative from the company supplying the voting machines, assure the public that the November general election will go much smoother than the recent primary.
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During a discussion Monday, Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker and a representative from the company supplying the voting machines, assure the public that the November general election will go much smoother than the recent primary.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing to get the names of Johnson County voters who cast provisional ballots in the August primary.

The ACLU also wants a list of voters in the county who cast advance mail ballots that were rejected because their signature didn’t match their voter record.

The lawsuit comes after a tumultuous Republican primary election for governor that exposed sometimes-subjective vote counting. Some Kansas counties counted ballots that would have been tossed out in others in a race between Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Gov. Jeff Colyer that was decided by fewer than 350 votes.

“We aren’t asking to see who they voted for or any private information,” said Lauren Bonds, the ACLU of Kansas’ legal director, in a statement. “That information should be afforded the utmost privacy. However, people should know whether their vote counted or if people faced any unnecessary barriers to voting. The public interest here is just transparency.”

The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of Davis Hammet, president of civic engagement organization Loud Light. The lawsuit filed in Johnson County District Court names Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker as the defendant.

A call to Metsker on Tuesday was not returned.

Hammet filed an open records request in August for the information. The county denied the request.

A copy of the lawsuit includes Hammet’s correspondence with Cynthia Dunham, the deputy director of the county’s legal department, in which the two tangle over whether the records are required to be released. In emails with Hammet, she wrote that the names of voters who voted provisionally are not required to be disclosed.

Hammet said in an interview that the lawsuit aims to empower non-profit organizations like his and others to contact voters and help them make sure their votes count in the future.

“A lot of it would be about helping assist these people,” Hammet said.

Hammet previously filed a formal objection with the State Objections Board challenging Kobach’s candidacy. In that challenge, he said advance mail ballots were rejected based on signature verification in violation of state law.

The board, made up of Republican officials, dismissed the objection.

The August primary election produced bipartisan calls to reexamine the state’s election system. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology Election Performance Index ranked Kansas 48th in the 2016 election.

Provisional ballots are used when it’s not clear whether the voter is eligible to vote or not. Officials decide later if the vote will count.

About 3.3 percent of Kansas ballots were cast provisionally in 2016, the index found. Across the nation, that average rate was just 1.2 percent.

The lawsuit comes the day after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that will give voters the chance to correct or verify signature mismatches on mail-in ballots.

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