Kobach should butt out of his own recount — and JoCo official behind this mess must go

Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach
Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach File photos

The Kansas primary election debacle has embarrassed the state and will add to voters’ distrust of the electoral system. After Tuesday’s comedy of errors, state officials must act quickly to mop up this mess.

Here’s how: Recount. Recuse. Resign.

Voters in Johnson County reported a series of problems with new voting machines throughout Election Day. Then it took hours to count all the ballots, leaving the state without an unofficial winner in two important races until early Wednesday morning.

“I’m embarrassed for our county,” Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker said. He should be.

Metsker promised to get to the bottom of the problems before the November general election.

That work should begin now. While we’re waiting, though, immediate steps should be taken to ensure transparency to Tuesday’s election, and to reassure voters their ballots were fairly and accurately counted.

Gov. Jeff Colyer should seek a recount of votes cast in the Republican primary for governor, particularly in Johnson County. As of Wednesday, Colyer trailed Secretary of State Kris Kobach by fewer than 200 votes statewide out of roughly 311,000 cast.

More ballots are to be counted in the days ahead. If Colyer moves into the lead, Kobach should ask for a recount.

Because the election is a primary, the campaign requesting a recount must pay the cost as required by Kansas law, unless the losing candidate prevails. Kansans should support either candidate if he seeks funds for another tally of the votes in any county — or all of them.

If a recount in the race proceeds, Kobach should immediately recuse himself from playing any role in the process.

It isn’t unusual for a secretary of state to oversee an election in which he or she is involved. At this point, though, any perceived involvement by Kobach in a recount could further damage the voters’ confidence in the outcome and faith in the state’s election system.

Naturally, Kobach refused to recuse himself Wednesday — an indefensible decision.

Once any recount is finished, Ronnie Metsker should resign his post in Johnson County.

This is the second major vote-counting problem to plague the office in two years. Johnson County votes weren’t counted until the next day in November 2016. And now, Tuesday’s disaster.

Metsker and others blame the latest problems on issues with new election machines and software. That wasn’t the issue in 2016, though, and similar glitches cropped up. It’s clear Metsker, who was appointed by Kobach, lacks the expertise to run an efficient election.

Incredibly, on Wednesday, he blamed high voter turnout for Tuesday’s catastrophe. High turnout isn’t a problem. It’s the goal. And a big turnout was utterly predictable in a primary that featured rare competitive races for governor and for Congress.

Even more voters will cast ballots in November. Should the state wait for two days, or four, or a week, for those ballots to be counted? No.

Kansas should count the ballots in the governor’s race again. Kris Kobach should step aside from any involvement in that process. And Ronnie Metsker should resign, clearing the way for someone else to run what is clearly a troubled election operation.