Johnson County election certification smooth despite abortion recount push, drop box fears

Jonathan Shorman/The Kansas City Star
·3 min read

Officials in Johnson County, Kansas’s most populous county, voted unanimously Monday to certify the results of the August election, a quiet ending locally to the election amid unsubstantiated fears surrounding ballot drop boxes and baseless allegations of fraud in the statewide vote on abortion rights.

The Johnson County Board of Canvassers, comprised mostly of county commissioners, voted 7-0 to certify the election, including the loss locally of the Value Them Both amendment, which would have removed abortion rights from the Kansas Constitution.

The amendment lost in Johnson County 79,818 votes to 174,933, or 31% to 69% – echoing the proposal’s landslide defeat statewide. Over the past several days, some anti-abortion activists pushing vague suspicions of fraud have been seeking a statewide recount, which would almost certainly reconfirm the amendment’s loss.

In Johnson County, the weeks leading up to the Aug. 2 election featured a dispute over ballot drop boxes between local election officials and Sheriff Calvin Hayden, who has been engaged in a months-long investigation into potential electoral misconduct but has offered no detailed allegations.

Hayden, a Republican, and other Sheriff’s Office employees met with Johnson County Election Commissioner Fred Sherman and other county officials on July 5 to discuss election security. Johnson County Chief Counsel Peg Trent later wrote that Hayden had proposed his staff transport ballots from drop boxes. Hayden, without offering evidence, later accused Trent of violating a state law that limits how individuals can return advance voting ballots cast by others.

No one spoke directly about the investigation during the Board of Canvassers meeting. Sherman told The Star afterward that neither he nor anyone else in his office had had additional contact with the Sheriff’s Office regarding the investigation since the July 5 meeting.

But during the meeting, Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara, who is running for Johnson County Commission chair, asked about the chain of custody for ballots deposited in drop boxes and the paperwork used to record the transfer of ballots.

“I know that in previous elections there have been some issues, signatures missing on those documents,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara’s question spoke to a prominent but debunked allegation regarding Johnson County elections. After the 2020 election, some pointed to incomplete ballot transfer forms as potential evidence of fraud.

The form had space for four signatures but many were not completely filled out. The forms were used internally to help authorities track ballot movements, but there was no legal or regulatory requirement that they have four signatures or that they be used at all.

Sherman told the board that the issue had been corrected.

“We have affidavits of ballot transfers throughout the entire process for this particular election that have all been submitted under my purview and have been notarized as part of the process,” he said.

Sherman also fielded questions about how a recount of the abortion amendment vote would work. He said the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office had told local election officials to be ready for a recount but hadn’t yet directed them to begin.

A recount in Johnson County would cost approximately $75,000 – a fraction of the $229,000 amendment supporters are seeking to pay for a statewide recount. Sherman said the cost estimate for the county was based on about 150 people counting for 2 ½ days.

If a recount takes place, all ballots would be counted precinct by precinct. A bipartisan team of two – a Republican and Democrat - would sort the ballots into “yes” and “no” piles, with additional piles in cases where a ballot was marked more than once or not marked at all, Sherman said.

Each person on the team would then count the piles.

“If their totals don’t agree, they start over again,” Sherman said.

The Board of Canvassers also used a coin toss to decide the outcome of a tied race for the Republican nomination for Aubry Township clerk between Ken Klingensmith and Darrel Dougan. Each man received four write-in votes. Klingensmith won the toss.