By Sherman Smith, Topeka Capital-Journal
A Johnson County District Court judge ruled Thursday in favor of a voting rights advocate seeking records about hundreds of ballots that were tossed in the August primary.
Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, asked for the names of individuals who cast provisional ballots and the justification for why they didn’t count. His request was rejected by the Johnson County election commissioner, Ronnie Metsker.
The American Civil Liberties Union supported Hammet in a lawsuit challenging the lack of transparency. District Judge David Hauber ruled the refusal to provide names was a violation of the Kansas Open Records Act.
“Now elections officials know that whenever they throw out a ballot people will know, and so they need to be really strict about standards,” Hammet said.
One of Hammet’s concerns is that the county didn’t attempt to notify people whose ballots were in jeopardy. Now, he plans to start telling people their votes didn’t count and try to gather information about who was affected. Ballots are dismissed without knowledge of party affiliation or how votes are cast.
The county dismissed 898 ballots in the August primary for a variety of reasons. Of those, 153 were rejected under a state law that requires the signature on an advanced ballot to match the signature on file from when the person registered to vote.
The signature matching law was introduced in Kansas by former Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The ACLU successfully challenged similar laws elsewhere, arguing that elections workers aren’t qualified in handwriting analysis and that they disproportionately affect voters.
Hammet said people who find out their votes were tossed could consider pursuing a legal challenge against the Kansas law.
Kobach, who appointed Metsker to oversee Johnson County elections, defeated Gov. Jeff Colyer by 343 votes in the August primary race for the GOP nomination for governor.
“There is a good chance one of these people would have said, '“Yeah, I did sign it, and I wanted to vote for Colyer,'” Hammet said.
Lauren Bonds, interim executive director for ACLU Kansas, said people should know whether their vote counted.
“The district court’s ruling is a win for democracy and transparency,” Bonds said. “Voting rights advocates now have the information they need to ensure election integrity and help provisional voters make sure their ballots count.”