Abortion vote in Kansas: why recount with such a large margin?

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas’ decisive statewide vote in favor of abortion rights was confirmed by a partial manual recount, a decision forced by two Republican activists.

Nine of the state’s 105 counties conducted the recount at the behest of Melissa Leavitt, of Colby, in far northwest Kansas, who pushed for tougher election laws. Longtime anti-abortion activist Mark Gietzen of Wichita covered most of the costs. He pledges to sue for a full statewide recount.

A higher-than-expected voter turnout on August 2 rejected a ballot measure that would have removed abortion rights protections from the Kansas Constitution and given the Legislature the right to further restrict or ban abortion. abortion. He fell short by 18 percentage points, or 165,000 votes statewide.

After the recount, the side supporting the measure got six votes and those opposing it lost 57 votes.

The referendum drew attention as it was the first state referendum on abortion since the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

WHY MAKE A RECOUNT IF IT DOESN’T CHANGE THE RESULT?

Gietzen and Leavitt both suggested there might have been issues without pointing to any actual evidence. Gietzen acknowledged in an interview that he would be surprised if the Kansas recount changed the results, but that he wanted “the system fixed.” He pointed to potential things that could have gone wrong, such as malware, inaccurate voter rolls and violations of election law, even though there is no evidence that this happened.

Recounts are increasingly used as tools to encourage a candidate’s supporters or make it look like an election was stolen rather than lost. A wave of candidates who echoed former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was rigged have called for a recount after losing their own Republican primaries.

In Nevada, attorney Joey Gilbert raised money to pay for a $190,000 recount that still showed him losing the GOP nomination for governor by 26,000 votes. In Colorado, County Clerk Tina Peters raised $256,000 to pay for a recount that showed she received 13 total votes in her bid for the party’s nomination for secretary of state, but she still lost by more than 88,000 votes. Both candidates continued to claim that they had indeed won the election, although recounts showed they were far from close.

The refusal of candidates or campaigns to believe they could ever be defeated in an election is a dangerous development for American democracy, said Tammy Patrick, a former election official from Arizona who is now a senior adviser to the Democracy Fund.

“What we’re seeing now is people just don’t believe they lost because they’re constantly being fed these lies about the legitimacy of the process,” Patrick said. The call for recounts “keeps their base engaged, ticking and donating,” she added.

Deb Otis of the non-profit group Fair Vote wrote a report which found that roughly two recounts were held per year in statewide elections between 2000 and 2019, and in just three, the results changed after recounts uncovered tiny but significant flaws in the initial tally.

“Voters will start to lose sight of when these claims are legitimate and when a state should pay for a recount,” Otis said.

Kansas law requires a recount if those requesting it prove they can cover the counties’ costs. Counties only pay if the result changes.

WHAT IS THE PROCESS?

Kansas law says counties have five days after a request to conduct a recount.

Eight of the counties reported their results before the state’s Saturday deadline, but Sedgwick County delayed releasing its final tally until Sunday because spokeswoman Nicole Gibbs said some of the ballots from votes were not separated into the correct constituencies during the initial recount and were to be re-run on Saturday. . She said the number of votes cast overall had not changed.

WHERE DOES THE MONEY COME FROM?

Leavitt and Gietzen provided credit cards to pay for the nearly $120,000 cost, according to the secretary of state’s office. Leavitt has an online fundraising page that had raised nearly $55,000 as of Monday afternoon. Gietzen also said he receives donations from a network built over three decades in the anti-abortion movement, but declined to elaborate.

The two initially wanted the vote recounted in all 105 Kansas counties, but were unable to raise the required $229,000. Gietzen said the nine counties were chosen in part based on population and cost.

Activists seeking the recount must also file financial reports, Mark Skoglund, executive director of the Kansas Government Ethics Commission, said last week. But Gietzen disputed that in a text to The Associated Press, saying, “we work on election integrity,” not on promoting the ballot initiative.

The votes were recounted in Douglas County, home to the main campus of the University of Kansas; Johnson County, a suburb of Kansas City; Sedgwick County, home to Wichita; Shawnee County, home to Topeka; and Crawford, Harvey, Jefferson, Lyons and Thomas counties. Abortion opponents lost all of those counties except Thomas.

WHO IS BEHIND THIS?

Gietzen has been active in the anti-abortion movement and frequently demonstrates outside a clinic offering abortions in Wichita. He leads his own group, the Kansas Coalition for Life, which is separate from the larger and more influential Kansans for Life which wields significant power in the Statehouse. He pushed for legislation to ban most abortions around the sixth week of pregnancy. Kansas law does not do this until the 22nd week.

He also leads the Kansas Republican Assembly, which had some influence among conservative GOP activists more than a decade ago before solidifying their grip on the state’s party organization. He is retired from the aircraft manufacturer Boeing.

He has repeatedly and unsuccessfully run for the Legislature and has been an activist against cities adding fluoride to their drinking water, which Wichita rejected in 2012.

“He’s so right, he’s coming from the other side,” said former Republican state Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita radio talk show host. “There just isn’t much wiggle room with Mark.”

Leavitt owns a hobby and craft store in Colby. She asked how Thomas County handles its elections. She served on an advisory group on local elections.

HOW SUCCESSFUL ARE COUNTS?

Recounts almost never reverse the outcome of elections, even in the closest races. Since the recount in Florida for the 2000 presidential race, more than 30 statewide elections across the United States have been subject to recounts. The three that were canceled were decided by hundreds of votes – not thousands.

The largest lead erased by a statewide recount was 261 votes in the 2004 Washington state gubernatorial election. There was no precedent in US history. United in a recount overturning the result of an election decided by more than 165,000 votes.

Even some staunch opponents of abortion saw the recount as a waste of time and money.

Voters in the nine counties cast about 59% of more than 922,000 ballots on the Aug. 2 ballot issue. They rejected the abortion opponents’ measure by 31 percentage points, which is significantly higher than the state total.

Whitmer said the money could be much better spent on GOP efforts to unseat Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly or in competitive legislative seats.

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Hollingsworth reported from Kansas City, Missouri, and Riccardi from Denver. Margaret Stafford in Kansas City, Missouri and Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington, DC also contributed.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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For full AP coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, go to https://apnews.com/hub/abortion.

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This story has been corrected to show that the side that supported the amendment lost 57 votes, not 87.