Kansas abortion amendment recount to take place in nine counties after $119,000 paid out

Chaos has reigned on a potential recount of the abortion constitutional amendment, with citizens requesting a recount paying $119,000 to recount the results in nine Kansas counties.

The recount almost certainly wouldn't change the results of the vote, with the amendment soundly defeated by over 165,000 votes.

Still, counties were told over the weekend to prepare in anticipation of a potential recount, tracking down staff and readying supplies, but to stop short of counting ballots.

Melissa Leavitt, a Colby resident, raised eyebrows by requesting a recount Friday in the constitutional amendment vote after she began raising money last week for a full 105 county recount, citing baseless potential for fraud.

More: In bizarre move, recount requested in Kansas abortion amendment. What does it mean?

She was joined in the effort by Mark Gietzen, a prominent Wichita anti-abortion activist who had a lawsuit dismissed in a matter of minutes over unproven theories regarding Sedgwick County's use of ballot drop boxes in the run-up to the Aug. 2 primary.

A credit card belonging to Gietzen was processed to pay out over $118,000 to recount the results in eight counties: Crawford, Douglas, Harvey, Jefferson, Johnson, Lyon, Sedgwick and Shawnee.

An additional credit card of unknown origin was used to pay $1,500 to recount the votes in Thomas County.

With the exception of Thomas County, the amendment was defeated in each of the other eight counties, often by overwhelming margins.

While the secretary of state's office said Friday they were confident Leavitt and her allies could front the money, they weren't actually asked to pay until a fuller cost estimate could be provided on Monday.

According to an email sent to Leavitt on Monday morning by elections director Bryan Caskey, Leavitt attempted to use Gietzen's financial assets as collateral to pay the bond, a move that was rejected.

Citizens requesting a recount in the Kansas abortion constitutional amendment face a 5 p.m. deadline to come up with the $229,000 required to proceed.
Citizens requesting a recount in the Kansas abortion constitutional amendment face a 5 p.m. deadline to come up with the $229,000 required to proceed.

Leavitt said in a video posted to the social media site TikTok on Monday that Gietzen had offered to put up his house as collateral. The crowdfunding page she set up had raised over $40,000 as of Monday afternoon.

Caskey said the recount wouldn't proceed unless payment was provided by Monday afternoon or the request was modified to a smaller and less costly alternative.

Reached by phone Monday evening, Gietzen said he was frustrated he was told on Monday he could not use a surety bond to pay for the full, 105 county recount.

But he felt it was a good investment, arguing without evidence there were fraudulent votes cast and ballot harvesting that impacted the vote.

More: Kansas voters reject constitutional amendment in first post-Roe vote

"It's not like I have $100,000 of anybody's money to spend and waste but it is worth it to go through this exercise to find out what happened," he said. "It is just too odd."

Leavitt did not respond to a phone call seeking comment from reporters Monday evening.

Counties in limbo awaiting word on abortion amendment recount

Meanwhile, counties were waiting in limbo for a final word on whether they would need to begin work on a recount.

The secretary of state's office said counties will have until Saturday to complete their work, though statute appeared to indicate they would only have until Wednesday, the statutorily required five days after the recount was requested.

In Shawnee County, Election Commissioner Andrew Howell said somewhere between 20 and 50 workers would be needed on top of the office's permanent staff members, with the cost expected to fall between $6,000 and $8,000.

More: With amendment vote in rearview mirror, how could abortion impact Kansas governor's race?

Cost estimates statewide for completing the recount ranged from $480 in Jefferson County to $74,500 in Johnson County.

"It's been a little hard to prep and know what's coming," Howell said, though he said the county was as prepared as possible for the potentiality as possible.

It is unclear when the last statewide recount in a Kansas election occurred. Former Gov. Jeff Colyer considered such a move in his narrow defeat to former Secretary of State Kris Kobach in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary but ultimately opted against doing so.

In the case of the constitutional amendment, it is a near certainty that a recount won't change the final result. Caskey told reporters Friday that he was confident in the election results and noted that recounts generally affirm the prior tally.

The whole endeavor has left many feeling like Barton County Clerk Bev Schmeidler, even though the county was not ultimately selected for a recount.

When asked what she made of a recount request for a county like hers, where the amendment passed by a comfortable margin of over 800 votes, Schmeidler was blunt: "I don't know."

"I feel very confident with our process and our audits that was done," she said. "You know, two days after the election, the audit board came out with a clean audit. They matched all of our Election day numbers. So I felt like we had good numbers. I don't foresee any changes."

Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at abahl@gannett.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Will Kansas recount abortion amendment votes? Here’s what we know.