Kansas abortion amendment recount wraps up. After $119,000 spent, 63 votes changed.

Shawnee County election office volunteers split into groups to recount votes by hand Wednesday morning. Various tables were assigned polling places in Shawnee County and were marked off on a whiteboard visible for members of the public watching from a distance.
Shawnee County election office volunteers split into groups to recount votes by hand Wednesday morning. Various tables were assigned polling places in Shawnee County and were marked off on a whiteboard visible for members of the public watching from a distance.
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After five days, multiple credit cards, $119,000 and no shortage of confusion, a hand recount of the Kansas abortion amendment vote in nine counties changed the ultimate margin of the outcome by only 63 votes, after its sound defeat on Aug. 2.

The recount, requested by Melissa Leavitt, a Colby resident who has trafficked in election conspiracy theories, and Mark Gietzen, a Wichita anti-abortion activist, wasn't expected to meaningfully change the results.

The "no" vote side lost 57 votes overall, while the "yes" votes gained only six votes. That's a small fraction of the over 922,000 Kansans who voted on the amendment.

All in all, Leavitt and Gietzen paid $119,000, or about $1,888 per vote changed, in their bid to erase a 165,000-plus vote deficit from the election night totals.

The pair initially the requested the recount take place statewide but later trimmed their request to nine counties.

Previously: In bizarre move, recount requested in Kansas abortion amendment. What does it mean?

That included the state's three biggest counties in the state — Johnson, Sedgwick and Shawnee. Of the nine counties, only one, Thomas County, voted for the amendment.

Counties had five days, beginning Tuesday, to complete the recount, though some have questioned Secretary of State Scott Schwab's interpretation of state law in allowing until Saturday for the count to be completed.

Under statute, a recount is supposed to be "initiated" within 24 hours of a request being lodged, with counties given five days to complete the process. That means most expected a recount should have been initiated on Saturday and concluded by the end of Wednesday.

But Schwab's office gave both parties until 5 p.m. Monday to come up with the money or modify their request and pay for it. It then gave counties until Saturday to complete the recount.

"It is because the statute is very unclear," Schwab told reporters Friday. "But we always interpret the statute as pro-voter or pro-citizen. So we did the best we could."

One county, Sedgwick County, couldn't meet even that deadline, with county officials saying they needed more time to account for an anomaly in their data.

More: With amendment vote in rearview mirror, how could abortion impact the Kansas governor's race?

It is the first recount of a statewide race in at least 25 years, though recounts in legislative and local races occur more frequently.

"My heart goes out to our clerks," Schwab said. "They just got done certifying the election. They're dealing with the recount that was kind of wavering back and forth ... And a lot of these counties have only a staff of two."

In Shawnee County, Election Commissioner Andrew Howell said they encountered few issues.

While the "yes" side picked up three votes, amendment opponents fared far better, gaining 16 votes. All of the new votes came from instances of voter error, such as individuals who didn't follow instructions in marking the ballot.

"There's no major surprises," Howell said. "We're going to come out very much where we started."

Costs to the county could wind up being over the $6,000 estimate provided to the secretary of state's office due to higher-than-expected staff costs but wouldn't be much more.

This is significant because any cost overruns from the estimates provided to Schwab's office would be incurred by the counties.

More: Did Kansas abortion amendment recount follow legal guidelines? Chaos may lead to fix.

Officials hope recount will increase election trust in Kansas

Jefferson County was one of the first to complete its recount midweek, finding four fewer votes on both the "yes" and "no" sides.

Despite a busy period since the Aug. 2 primary election cycle began, County Clerk Linda Buttron said she wasn't bothered by having to perform the recount and was pleased the outcome hewed so close to what was reported on election night.

"I hope that is increases voter confidence," Buttron said. "We do our best in the clerk's office to make sure that everything is done accurately and efficiently and I hope that puts some more trust in our mind."

Howell said some members of the public specifically wanted to be included in the recount and have reported they are pleasantly surprised by how smoothly things were run.

"It's a chance to demonstrate to those that either want to see or learn or be a part of it to truly understand how it works and that it does work," Howell said.

More: Rise in child sex abuse cases went unreported to Kansas lawmakers for six years

But that doesn't mean he isn't thankful to be done.

"Let's just say that a lot of late nights and a lot of early mornings all in a row for a lot of months here," he said.

Reached by phone, Gietzen said he didn't regret paying $118,000 to cover the recount in eight of the counties, a total he has said he hopes to recoup via donations.

He maintained that Sedgwick County didn't allow observers in when it resumed its recount Saturday, arguing this means it wasn't a "valid" recount.

He indicated he would file a legal challenge over the matter, as well as launch a door-to-door campaign to see if voters actually cast a ballot in the election, as other doubters of election integrity have done in other states.

"Then I'll let you know whether we have a good elections system in Kansas or not," Gietzen said. "And so far, I think not."

Treasurer primary recount also confirms result

A separate recount of the results in six counties for the Republican state treasurer's race also wrapped up, confirming Rep. Steven Johnson's win over Sen. Caryn Tyson by a slim margin.

Tyson requested the recount Friday before the largest counties in the state had certified their result, which saw Johnson's lead grow to 475 votes.

Initially, Tyson requested a recount in 55 counties but pared down the request to Cloud, Harvey, McPherson and Ottawa counties, as well as part of the vote in Barton and Dickinson counties.

More: Rep. Steven Johnson declares victory in Republican treasurer primary, though recount still looms

The recount didn't change Johnson's margin of victory, with both candidates losing one vote each overall. McPherson County reported an additional eight votes for Johnson and three for Tyson, the biggest gains of any county that reported.

Barton, Ottawa and Cloud counties reported no changes from their original vote totals.

Despite the recount, Tyson conceded defeat in a statement earlier this week.

Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at abahl@gannett.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas abortion amendment recount finishes with almost no change