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Kansas S.O.S. Sued Over $120K Abortion Recount Costs

Secretary of State Scott Schwab confirmed that a recount of the failed abortion amendment would cost $120,000. In response, anti-abortion activist Mark Gietzen filed a lawsuit demanding a hand recount without cost.

(TNS) — Two new punches were thrown Tuesday, Aug. 23, in a fight over election conspiracy theories that has placed Kansas’ Republican secretary of state at odds with die-hard Republican anti-abortion activists and election deniers.

First, Secretary of State Scott Schwab’s office confirmed that the state has charged nearly $120,000 to credit cards controlled in part by Wichita anti-abortion activist Mark Gietzen, who along with Colby resident and election denier Melissa Leavitt raised enough money to force a recount in nine counties — including populous Sedgwick and Johnson counties — of a failed amendment that would have allowed lawmakers to restrict or ban abortions in Kansas.

Then, Gietzen — who said Sunday that he would not pay for the Sedgwick County recount — fired back with a lawsuit against Schwab demanding a hand recount of every race in the Aug. 2 primary election, including a second recount of Sedgwick County’s abortion rights vote and a “revote” in counties that use electronic voting machines to mark ballots.

In the lawsuit, Gietzen, who is representing himself, uses a programming error in a small race in Cherokee County and a missed deadline in Sedgwick County to push unproven theories about hackers using malicious computer viruses to flip votes in the Aug. 2 election.

Ballots were already recounted by hand in four of the state’s most densely populated counties — Johnson, Sedgwick, Shawnee and Douglas, which all rejected the ballot by a wide margin — and four smaller counties where the amendment failed. Those counties were Crawford, Harvey, Jefferson and Lyon. Gietzen and Leavitt also ordered a recount in Thomas County, where voters favored the amendment.

Fewer than 70 votes changed — a minuscule fraction of the total vote count — and no evidence of fraud or large-scale error was uncovered. Schwab said the recount “proves once and for all that there is no systemic election fraud in our state’s election process.”

But Gietzen, leader of the hard-right Kansas Republican Assembly and anti-abortion Kansas Coalition for Rights, said problems with the Sedgwick County recount have given him an opening to further challenge the results.

Gietzen said Sunday that he does not believe he should have to pay the estimated $31,800 for the Sedgwick County recount. He said he can’t trust the results of the recount because observers were not notified of recount activities on Saturday, which he said is a violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, a state law that requires government agencies to notify the public of the time, place and date of certain types of government meetings, including recounts.

By Kansas statute any Kansas voter can challenge the outcome of an election. However, a challenge must prove that illegal votes were cast, voters were deprived the right to vote or that election error or fraud occurred at a scale that could change the results of the election. Voters can also challenge an election if they can prove the wrong person was elected the winner or that bribery occurred.

Gietzen’s unorthodox six-page legal filing is labeled “Petition for a total primary election hand-count, and a revote where necessary.” It does not include any legal citations of case law and the only state law referenced is the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

Gietzen’s lawsuit does not seek reimbursement from Schwab’s Office, which said Tuesday that it had already charged the requesters of the recount $119,644 for the nine-county recount.

He is also seeking a second hand recount in Sedgwick County, claiming — without evidence — that the recount was stalled because of a thumb-drive infected with a computer virus that switched votes. The suit claims Sedgwick County Election Officer Angela Caudillo violated the Kansas Open Meeting Act by conducting recount activities on Saturday without issuing a notice to observers.

Caudillo has said the recount was open to observers Saturday and that the delay, which made Sedgwick County miss its 5 p.m. Saturday deadline, was necessary so she could sort out about 400 ballots that had not been separated by precinct.

“The claim that the recount was delayed due to an infected thumb drive is not accurate,” Caudillo’s office said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “The delay in reporting was directly related to election workers sorting ballots incorrectly into the incorrect precincts.”

Citing a system glitch involving a thumb drive in Cherokee County, Gietzen claims, without evidence, that a computer virus carried by thumb drives could be responsible for flipping votes across the state. The Cherokee County Clerk’s Office put out a statement saying it was an isolated programming error that affected one race.

That didn’t stop GOP Kansas lawmakers from blasting the story to their followers on social media, including state Sen. Mike Thompson, who on Aug. 13 shared a story about the mishap on Facebook and directed followers to Leavitt’s online fundraiser for the recount.

In the wake of the August primary, each county audited 1 percent of votes in one race and audited 10 percent of votes in the razor-tight GOP primary for treasurer.

Cherokee County’s commission race was the only audit with the technical issue Gietzen expressed concern over. The county’s election clerk said the issue did not impact other races.

©2022 The Kansas City Star. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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