OLATHE, Kan. — On Thursday, the Johnson County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) voted unanimously to approve additional compensation for county employees reassigned to help recount the “Value Them Both” amendment vote.
But some commissioners are concerned the county might not be fully reimbursed for the ongoing recount ordered by the state.
Just before 6 p.m. Monday, the Johnson County Elections Office learned the county was selected as one of nine counties to participate in recount efforts for the Kansas Constitutional Amendment on abortion.
The nine counties that will be recounted include Lyon, Sedgwick, Shawnee, Thomas, Johnson, Douglas, Jefferson, Harvey and Crawford.
In Johnson County, election workers are currently sorting through 256,869 ballots that were cast during the primary election. The ballots will be divided by precincts. From there, bipartisan teams of two will work together to count the votes by hand.
The Kansas Secretary of State’s Office set a deadline requiring counties to complete the recount by 5 p.m., on Saturday, Aug. 20.
The election office has selected 50 election workers and roughly 100 county employees pulled from other county departments, working to meet the recount deadline. Recount efforts kicked off Tuesday and will continue from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 17-18, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 19.
“As you observed it was physically exhausting sorting through and trying to cull out those ballots in the proper precinct order. Today most workers are seated at tables actually physically counting the ballots,” Johnson County Election Commissioner Fred Sherman said.
Each reassigned county employee will now receive a $100 daily stipend for their work in the recount effort.
“It’s asking a lot of someone to show up at nine in the morning and plan to work until seven at night, on your feet all day. It’s a task that they’ve undertaken that they didn’t really know exactly what they were getting into,” Assistant County Manager Joe Waters said. “We think it’s appropriate to pay this additional $100 stipend.”
The additional stipend is estimated to cost the county roughly $45,000 and will be paid for out of the Johnson County Election Office budget. The total recount effort is estimated to cost Johnson County approximately $75,000.
Commissioner Becky Fast raised concerns that Kansas Republican Assembly President Mark Gietzen used credit cards as financial collateral in the recount efforts. She questioned if the Kansas Secretary of State would reimburse all the funds the county spent.
“I feel like there should have been more than $120,000 bonded. These are on credit cards. There is [a] dispute whether a credit card is a bond and whether any of the nine counties are going to get reimbursed,” Fast said.
The Secretary of State will split the $120,000 bond put up for the recount across the nine counties involved. That math is concerning to some commissioners, including Fast.
Peg Trent, chief legal counsel for the county, said there is no guarantee the county will be reimbursed. That would mean Johnson County taxpayers would have to cover the bill for at least part of the massive effort.
“And if we don’t get reimbursed I think that public transparency needs to know we’re not getting reimbursed and we weren’t held harmless, and Johnson County tax payers are having to float this,” Fast said.
Trent said the county will submit all costs for reimbursement to the Secretary of State, including costs for overtime and the cost of displacing county workers to cover the recount efforts.
“We will be tracking that overtime through human resources in order to submit as reimbursable costs. Within a department, because maybe workers had to work overtime to cover those workers who were displaced, we will be submitting that as well as overtime,” Trent said.
Waters estimates the recount will be completed by 4 p.m. Friday, but the final timeline is still unclear.
The ballot question on abortion overwhelmingly failed in Johnson County: 69% no, 31% yes.
Under state law, the only way the challengers would get their money back would be if the result of the election changed, a situation unlikely with a margin that wide.