Democrat Seeks Recount In Kansas Senate Race Against Incumbent Republican

Nov 18, 2016

Republican Mary Pilcher-Cook, pictured here, defeated rival Vicki Hiatt by a mere 980 votes, according to the initial vote tally. Hiatt is asking for a recount.
Credit Heartland Health Monitor file photo

Vicki Hiatt, who lost her bid to unseat Republican firebrand Mary Pilcher-Cook in the Kansas Senate by a mere 980 votes in the initial vote tally, has requested a recount.

Hiatt, a Democrat who ran for the District 10 seat, which includes parts of Johnson and Wyandotte counties, made the request in a letter today to Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker. The letter was prompted by election night tabulation problems in Johnson County that delayed the reporting of results until the next day.  

“As a citizen of Johnson County, I am disappointed that you have declined to respond to the questions posed to you by the Johnson County Democratic Party about the original vote counting process that occurred on November 8th and the morning of November 9th,” Hiatt wrote. 

“Because you have declined to provide me and my fellow citizens a full and complete picture of what occurred, requesting a recount is the only recourse to ensure that the ballots of all District 10 voters are counted in an accurate manner.”

Hiatt could not immediately be reached for comment.

The District 10 Senate race was one of the closest in the state, with Pilcher-Cook garnering 51 percent of the vote versus Hiatt’s 49 percent.

Johnson County was the last county in the state to report its election totals. Metsker attributed the delay to a “huge influx” of advance mail ballots and voters registering for the first time or changing their registration. The county’s vote totals were reported about 1:30 Wednesday afternoon, the day after the election.

Metsker also said that malfunctioning software required poll workers to re-scan paper ballots, further delaying the vote tally.  

On Nov. 11, the Johnson County Democratic Party sent Metsker a letter asking for a fuller explanation of what happened Tuesday night. Party Vice-Chair Tucker Poling, who signed the letter, said Metsker did not answer the questions posed in the letter and suggested a private meeting instead.

“We said we would be happy to meet after he responded to our questions, and from that point on it was radio silence,” Poling told KCUR on Thursday.

Democrat Vicki Hiatt sent a letter to Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker asking for a recount due to counting issues on Election Night.
Credit Courtesy - Vicki Hiatt

Metsker told KCUR today that his office had been working night and day to get provisional ballots counted and certified.

“We’ve worked from the Wednesday after the election, all day Thursday, all day Friday, all day Saturday, all day Sunday, all day Monday, all day Tuesday, up until about 5:30 pm this past Wednesday on these provisional ballots,” he said.

Johnson County’s official canvass of election results was scheduled to be completed on Thursday, Nov. 17.

“With provisional ballots, we have to look at each of them by hand, carefully examine each one, to make sure it’s valid,” Metsker said.

Metsker declined to go on record in response to the Johnson County Democratic Party’s demand for a recount or to its criticisms about the counting process.

Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, told KCUR today that he spoke briefly to a member of Metsker’s staff, who told him “that he was so careful that night to make sure that they kept very accurate track of all the ballots, that no ballot was double-counted when the counting machine went down, and then they carefully documented the entire process.”

“So I’m very confident the results will be the same or, sometimes with recounts there might be a one- or two-vote difference just scanning in paper ballots,” he said. “I’m sure the results will hold.”

Pilcher-Cook has served in the Kansas Legislature for 14 years, the last eight in the Senate. An outspoken opponent of abortion, she introduced a bill in 2014 requiring parental consent for sex education for their children and another bill that would have criminalized surrogate motherhood.

Hiatt has never held elective office. She taught special education in the Olathe and Shawnee Mission school districts for 30 years before retiring four years ago.

Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster and a reporter. You can follow him @kcurkyle.