JoCo voters find early problems at the polls; election chief says issues mostly resolved

Election judge Liz Graham (left) helped voter Liz Pendleton become familiar with a new voting machine Tuesday at Colonial Church in Prairie Village.
Election judge Liz Graham (left) helped voter Liz Pendleton become familiar with a new voting machine Tuesday at Colonial Church in Prairie Village. tljungblad@kcstar.com

Johnson County voters ran into problems shortly after polls opened Tuesday morning with the county’s new voting machines not working at some locations. That led to some voters walking out before casting their ballots.

The county election commissioner said the problems have largely been resolved. But the new machines left some voters disappointed.

“I didn’t have a very good experience at all,” said Terry Brown, a Merriam voter. “People (election officials) just seemed like they just didn’t know what to do..”

Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker said “we have our techs out there all over the place.”

“It’s mostly little minor things that we just have to get it up and going,” he said. “As far as I know, we are resolved in almost every place at this point. But we did have a slow start in some places.”

Metsker said it was too early to give a definitive answer about why the issues had happened. He said he knew there were some difficulties in getting the systems up and going.

When Brown showed up to vote at Antioch Church shortly after polls opened at 7 a.m., only two of the five machines were working, he said, adding that people on the working machines were taking a long time to vote — about 10 minutes.

He said he didn’t think it should have taken that long. He thought maybe the voters were unfamiliar with the candidates or the machines were slow. But then it got worse: The remaining two machines went down.

Brown said there were 16 people ahead of him and about 20 people behind him waiting in line. He said people started to leave to go to work after election workers couldn’t answer questions as to when the machines would be operating..

Some who asked for paper ballots were denied because election workers didn’t know if that was allowed, Brown said.

Because Brown had errands to run, he also decided to leave and return later to vote.

An election worker at SouthWinds Christian Church off 161st Street and Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park said the total turnout at that precinct for the 2016 general election had already been reached by about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

There were four voting machines in use for Tuesday’s primary, and all were full at 9:30 a.m., compared with six for the 2016 election.

A slew of races are on the ballot Tuesday, including primaries for the Republicans and Democrats running for governor of Kansas. There’s also a heated Democratic primary in the 3rd congressional district.

Polls in Johnson County and Wyandotte County are open until 7 p.m. tonight. As long as voters are in line by the time the polls close, they will be allowed to cast a ballot.

Metsker said it’s a brand-new system for election workers in Johnson County.

“We have 192 locations, and almost all of them opened up perfectly,” he said. “We had a few where we had some temporary delays getting things up and going.”