Supporters of Kansas abortion recount effort must pay $230K by Monday to proceed

Chris Ochsner/cochsner@kcstar.com
·5 min read

Editor’s note: A partial recount will proceed as a result of the fundraising efforts from amendment supporters. Read the updated story here.

A Colby resident must pay nearly $230,000 by 5 p.m. Monday for a statewide recount of Kansas’ constitutional amendment on abortion to move forward.

Supporters of a recount appeared engaged in a last-minute scramble to secure the funds hours before the deadline. A long-time anti-abortion activist who plans to provide financial backing for the effort said Monday morning he was headed to the bank and would have more information later.

The Kansas Secretary of State’s Office on Monday morning rejected an attempt to offer assets — including a home — as collateral to secure the recount. Election officials are insisting recount supporters have cash in hand, or a cash equivalent like a cashier’s check.

The amendment, which would have stripped abortion rights from the Kansas Constitution, went down in a landslide defeat. The 59% to 41% victory for amendment opponents reverberated nationally in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision striking down Roe v. Wade. The abortion rights side won the statewide referendum by more than 165,000 votes.

But a subset of amendment supporters have raised baseless allegations of fraud in the wake of the election, culminating in the push for a recount that’s all but certain to reconfirm the victory for abortion rights.

The baseless push for a recount has echoes of former President Donald Trump’s conspiracy-mongering about the 2020 presidential election, which has dominated discourse on the political right for nearly two years.

Melissa Leavitt, a Colby woman who has testified about unfounded claims of voter fraud to the Kansas Legislature, requested the recount just before 5 p.m. Friday. She provided a credit card belonging to the Kansas Republican Assembly, led by Wichita resident Mark Gietzen, as temporary bond for the recount as the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office determined the full cost.

The Kansas Republican Assembly is a hard-right group unaffiliated with the official Kansas Republican Party. Over the years, it has taken on a number of ultra-conservative and anti-government positions, including opposition to fluoridated water among other issues.

In an email sent just before 4 a.m. Monday morning, Leavitt said Gietzen “requested his Financials be put up for the bond.”

In a TikTok post, Leavitt said Gietzen had offered to “put his home up” for the recount.

In a response sent around 9:30 a.m. Monday, Kansas Director of Elections Bryan Caskey rejected Gietzen’s financial assets citing Kansas statute’s requirement that the bond must be “conditioned to pay all costs” associated with a recount.

By 5 p.m. Monday Leavitt must provide cash, check, cashiers check, or a credit card with sufficient funds to cover the $229,334. Or reduce her request to a select group of counties she can afford.

A spokeswoman for Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, said the office created its cost estimate based upon individual estimates provided by each of the state’s 105 counties.

“State law requires the request for a recount to be submitted by 5pm on the second Friday following the election. State law does not require the bond and request to be submitted simultaneously,” Schwab’s spokeswoman Whitney Tempel said in an email when asked why Leavitt was not required to provide this money on Friday.

The state’s two most populous counties, Johnson and Sedgwick, account for more than $100,000 of the projected cost, according to data from the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office. Johnson County estimated the recount would cost $74,500. Sedgwick County estimated it would cost $31,800.

Butler County estimated its recount would cost $15,000. Every other county in the state estimated less than $10,000 for the cost of a recount.

Johnson County Election Commissioner Fred Sherman said the county’s estimate is based on about 150 people counting for two-and-a-half days, he said.

He suggested the true cost of a recount could ultimately be lower, however. “We have to estimate high because if we exceed that amount it’s on us,” Sherman said.

As of 10:45 am. Leavitt had raised nearly $30,000 for the recount in a crowdfunding site. Reached by phone Monday morning, Leavitt said she didn’t have time to speak to press as she worked to meet the deadline.

Gietzen said he was about to head to the bank when reached by The Star at about 10:30 a.m. Monday.

“I’ll know more after I talk to the bank,” Gietzen said.

Gietzen said he intends to have a bond for $230,000 by the close of business on Monday. But he appeared unaware that the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office said it would only accept cash, check, a cashier’s check or credit card.

Gietzen, who aided abortion opponents in taking over the Sedgwick County Republican Party in the wake of the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” protests in Wichita, before the Aug. 2 election filed a lawsuit in a failed attempt to have ballot drop boxes removed. The lawsuit was dismissed, but Gietzen is appealing.

Without offering evidence, Gietzen has suggested the election was plagued by massive fraud. His claims fit into a larger, nascent electoral conspiracy movement in Kansas that has made baseless allegations of electoral misconduct, often centered on incorrect interpretations of election law or voter registration statistics.

The primary vote yes campaign, Value Them Both, distanced itself from the recount effort in a statement last week. But at least one state senator, Mike Thompson of Shawnee, is helping to fundraise for the recount.

“A hand recount may expose any potential voter fraud issues,” Thompson said in a Facebook post Friday.