TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The chances of a Kansas voter’s ballot being counted might depend on which county he or she lives in — especially if they vote by mail.
The issue of counties having different standards for determining whether a ballot should be counted came up last week (Monday) during a meeting of the State Objections Board, where Davis Hammet of Topeka objected to Republican Kris Kobach’s victory in the Aug. 7 GOP primary for governor. Hammet’s objections involved how the election was administered and whether the varying standards could have influenced the outcome of a race that Kobach won over Gov. Jeff Colyer by less than 350 votes.
Hammet noted Johnson County rejected 153 mail-in ballots because the signature on the envelope used to mail the ballot back to the county did not match the voter’s signature on file in the county election office.
In contrast, Shawnee and Douglas counties’ election officials didn’t reject any ballots because of mismatched signatures.
“This means either Johnson County erroneously rejected these ballots, or there is massive voter fraud in Johnson County,” Hammet told the board. “If the board rules that my objection is wrong and that Johnson County’s rejection is correct, then, given the discrepancy between Johnson County and Shawnee County, it can reasonably be presumed that Shawnee County and other counties improperly allowed fraudulent votes.”
Hammet also noted Kansas doesn’t require county officials to verify signatures when voters mail back their ballots. They are required to do so only when the voter fills out a form requesting an advance ballot by mail.
The Objections Board rejected the argument that county officials should not verify ballot signatures. Deputy Secretary of State Eric Rucker said that while the law does not require verifying signatures on advance ballot envelopes, it does say election officers have a duty to challenge ballots when there is reason to believe the people casting them are not who they say they are, and a mismatched signature can be evidence of that.
Shawnee County Election Commissioner Andrew Howell said his office didn’t reject any ballots in August because of mismatched signatures, but he said he typically sees at least a few mismatched signatures in each election. Deciding whether to count a ballot is often a judgment call that is left to local officials, he said.
“Anytime the law leaves it open for interpretation, everybody does the best they can,” Howell said. “We’re always left with the challenge of trying to make a reasonable determination.”
Howell said Shawnee County also spends a lot of time calling, writing or mailing voters if there is a problem with a ballot before deciding to reject it.
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said the county also didn’t reject any ballots because of mismatched signatures. His office often sends “runners” to voters’ homes to clear up any problems with their ballots.
“There’s nothing in the statute that says we have to reach out to the voter. That’s a decision we make,” Shew said.
Attorney Brant Lauenn said Hammet raised issues that the Legislature should resolve. But Rep. Vic Miller, D-Topeka, an attorney who often frequently handles election contests for Democratic candidates, said he thinks the secretary of state’s office should decide what he called administrative issues.
Howell also said he wasn’t sure whether imposing uniform standards on all counties would be helpful.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” he said. “Too much subscription takes away from judgment calls, and a lot of times you need to make judgment calls. On the other hand, it would be helpful to be super clear what to count and not to count.”