Recount-a-palooza

·8 min read

The ongoing recount of the Kansas abortion vote will finish either Friday or Saturday and we already know what we’re going to find out.

In fact, we’ve known since the night of the Aug. 2 election: voters resoundingly rejected an amendment that would have removed abortion rights from the state constitution.

It’s not often in politics that so much energy is spent looking into something when there’s so little uncertainty – actually none – about what you’ll find. There isn’t and has never been any realistic chance the recount would change the outcome, which was a 59% to 41% drubbing for the amendment.

It’s as if someone had ordered a national recount of the 1984 presidential election. That year Republican President Ronald Reagan defeated Democrat Walter Mondale by a similar margin. Reagan’s victory in that election was, correctly, considered a landslide and the recent Kansas vote was, too.

The hand recount is taking place in nine counties, including some of the state’s largest. Ultimately, nearly 60% of all the ballots cast will be examined. Hundreds of workers and volunteers are spending hour after hour looking at ballots.

All of it is happening at the request of Melissa Leavitt, a Colby resident who appears to hold vague suspicions about the vote, and her benefactor, Mark Gietzen, a longtime anti-abortion activist in the Wichita area who is paying for most of the approximately $119,000 cost of the recount.

Since I haven’t introduced myself yet, I’m Jonathan Shorman, The Star’s lead political reporter, and I’m guest writing the newsletter this week. Daniel Desrochers is taking a well-deserved vacation.

While Daniel’s away, probably enjoying a good bourbon somewhere, I’ve been searching for parallels in recent Kansas political history to this recount and I’m coming up empty.

The last chaotic post-election period in Kansas was in August 2018, when the Republican primary for governor came down to fewer than 400 votes between Jeff Colyer, then the governor, and Kris Kobach, then the Kansas secretary of state. Election night had been a show of an unprintable variety, with Johnson County – the biggest county in the state – extremely slow to post unofficial results because of computer problems.

After spending most of the night covering Kobach’s watch party, I remember finally crawling into bed – laptop in hand – sometime after 3 a.m. The following days were hellish for sleep-deprived reporters and political operatives desperate to know who won.

Kobach emerged from election night with the lead, but neither man conceded. Over the next few days, the margin fluctuated as counties corrected errors in their unofficial results and then began to certify official results. Kobach, who faced intense criticism at the time over his initial refusal to recuse himself from his election-based duties, won the primary by 343 votes, but went on to lose the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly.

Colyer could have easily justified a recount but declined to seek one. The margin between them was only 0.11 points.

By contrast, the aftermath of the Aug. 2 amendment election hasn’t been chaotic. The recount effort itself has been somewhat frantic as election workers who thought they were done scramble to accomplish yet another task. But the outcome of the election was clear relatively early on the election night and no significant problems were reported.

Outside of a fringe few, no one had made any serious allegations of fraud before Leavitt submitted her recount request. Value Them Both, the main group that supported the amendment, distanced itself from the recount effort.

The much better comparison to August 2018 is the current Republican race for Kansas treasurer. State Rep. Steven Johnson of Assaria led state Sen. Caryn Tyson of Parker by only 475 votes after counties finished certifying their results this week.

Tyson asked for a recount in four of the state’s 105 counties and a partial recount in two. The margin between the two candidates is 0.09 percentage points. Still, Johnson is all but certain to remain in the lead when they’re finished.

The bottom line: This past week shows just how hard it is to reverse the results of a large election, especially a statewide election, through a recount. Even a razor-thin victory is incredibly unlikely to be overturned – which makes the fact that serious money was put up for the abortion recount all the more stunning.

More from Kansas

The abortion recount has dominated the news in Kansas. Election officials have until Saturday to finish recounts. Even though the outcome of the abortion vote isn’t in doubt, the attention has posed a challenge to Republicans hoping to pivot to the general election.

Here are headlines from across the state:

‘It’s over with.’ Abortion recount hampers Kansas Republicans’ pivot to general election Jonathan Shorman, Katie Bernard and Chance Swaim

Kansas Gov. Kelly says abortion vote recount ‘inconsequential’ to election confidence Katie Bernard

Steven Spielberg spent $25K on Kansas’ abortion vote in final weeks. Who else donated? Katie Bernard

Schmidt proposes trust fund to keep Kansas transportation money from being raided Robert Cronkleton

It’s official: Sports betting’s legal in Kansas starting Sept. 1. Here are the details Jonathan Shorman and Jesse Newell

And across Missouri

The battle over a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution that would allow state legislators to require Kansas City to spend more on police is heating up. All Missouri voters will be able to weigh in on the amendment on Nov. 8, though the proposal affects Kansas City.

Kansas City Mayor Lucas sues Missouri over law requiring city to spend more on police Kacen Bayless and Glenn Rice

‘A lie’: Kansas City officials say KCPD ballot measure wrongly says it won’t cost city Kacen Bayless

Missouri Senate’s Conservative Caucus disbands, calls for unity with GOP leadership Kacen Bayless

Sex trafficking, racketeering alleged at Missouri boarding school in federal lawsuit Laura Bauer and Judy Thomas

People are dying at dangerous Missouri rail crossings. What’s taking so long to fix them? Laura Bauer, Judy Thomas and Bill Lukitsch

The latest from Kansas City

In Kansas City…

Kansas City tenants spend more than half their income on housing, rent survey says Kynala Phillips

Johnson County home developer to pay $51,690 for allegedly violating Clean Water Act Robert Cronkleton

Ex-KCK officer convicted of sex crimes against 13-year-old stripped of police license Aarón Torres

Have a news tip? Send it along to jshorman@kcstar.com

Odds and Ends

Missouri special session

Republican Gov. Mike Parson plans to hold a news conference on Monday to outline details regarding a special session this year that will focus on extending agricultural tax credits and reducing income taxes. Parson called for a special session on July 1 but hasn’t yet announced a date. It is possible the special session will coincide with the General Assembly’s annual veto session on Sept. 14.

Parson hasn’t yet proposed specific income tax legislation. But he has been quietly meeting with lawmakers across the state this summer about the special session. Recent weekly schedules from Parson’s office have listed meetings with lawmakers, though the governor’s office hasn’t been releasing details about how the gatherings went.

Marshall abortion bill

U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican, on Wednesday offered a bill that would ban U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement or U.S. Department of Health & Human Services employees and contractors from transporting undocumented immigrants across state lines for an abortion.

Marshall introduced the bill with Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee – the GOP campaign operation for the Senate.

The legislation has no chance of passage in the current Congress, with Democrats in control of both chambers. But the legislation is notable coming from Marshall coming just a couple weeks after Kansas voters rejected an amendment that would have stripped abortion rights from the state constitution.

Missouri treasurer audit

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway on Thursday released an audit of the Missouri Treasurer’s Office, giving it a rating of “excellent.” So far, so boring.

But the current Missouri Treasurer is Scott Fitzpatrick, a Republican who is running to replace Galloway as auditor. Galloway, a Democrat, isn’t running for re-election after unsuccessfully challenging Parson in 2020, and her audit could be helpful to Fitzpatrick as he seeks to flip Missouri’s only Democratic-held statewide office.

“The audit identified no significant deficiencies in internal controls, no significant noncompliance with legal provisions, and no significant deficiencies in management practices and procedures,” the audit report says.

Happy Friday

Last month in this space, Daniel said I was wrong to argue that an old fashioned should be made with rye whiskey. I get that Daniel likes a good bourbon; I do, too. But a big part of a good cocktail is the balance between sweet and bitter. An old fashioned is a sweet drink, but it can easily become too sweet. The spice of a rye whiskey helps cut through the syrup or sugar you’re using better than bourbon and will produce a more complex, balanced drink. So have a rye old fashioned. And listen to Arcade Fire.

Enjoy your weekend.

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