The Johnson County Election Office went ahead with a vote recount sought by Kansas Senate candidate Vicki Hiatt even though she withdrew her request, citing irregularities and what she described as the office’s lack of transparency.
The election office said on Wednesday that the recount had left the outcome of the District 10 race unchanged. It said Republican Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook defeated Hiatt, a Democrat, by the identical 952-vote margin reported earlier, with each candidate receiving one additional vote from paper ballots.
“The results of the recount provide clear confirmation that the work performed by the Johnson County Election Office’s staff was accurate,” Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker said in a statement.
Metsker said he believed he had an obligation to release the results of the completed recount, despite Hiatt’s withdrawal of her request.
District 10 includes parts of Johnson County and Wyandotte County. Hiatt, a retired special education schoolteacher, had sought to unseat Pilcher-Cook, a senator for the last eight years and one of the chamber’s most conservative members.
The contest was one of the closest in the state. Pilcher-Cook won 51.2 percent of the vote; Hiatt won 48.6 percent.
In a letter to Metsker dated Nov. 22, Hiatt withdrew her recount request and accused Metsker and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach of not following “procedures mandated by Kansas law in conducting the recount I requested on November 18, 2016.”
“This, in combination with repeated failure to act with transparency in regard to these matters, has caused me to lose confidence that a recount under your or the Secretary of State’s supervision will be conducted in an appropriate and transparent manner,” Hiatt wrote.
Hiatt said Metsker’s office had failed to explain delays in the vote count in Johnson County on election night. The county’s results weren’t tallied until early afternoon the next day.
She also complained that the office didn’t notify her of the proposed date and time of the recount, demanded that she pay $9,000 for the costs of the recount and did not have independent observers present.
“These repeated failures to proceed in a transparent manner in regard to the vote counting process for this election are disturbing,” Hiatt wrote. “However, I remain committed to bringing transparency to this process on behalf of the voters of Johnson County. Therefore, I am currently evaluating my options to achieve that goal.”
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Hiatt said she had decided not to pursue the options she was considering, including legal action, but rather would seek to hold Pilcher-Cook’s feet to the fire.
“We’ll have groups working to make sure she realizes that she doesn’t have a strong mandate in this district and she needs to be listening and communicating with all of her constituents,” she said.
Hiatt said she was disturbed that Metsker had released the results of the recount and touted them in a press release.
“I feel like they’ve released a press release that said, ‘Oh look, we’ve done what we were supposed to do. We did a recount and all is good.’ But the recount was done illegally. I had no observers there. I wasn’t informed that they were doing it. So I don’t feel like that’s been achieved.”
Metsker’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.