A dispute over Shawnee County’s election budget spurred lawmakers to weigh a bill Tuesday stripping Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s authority to appoint elections commissioners in Kansas’ four largest counties. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, brought the bill, which would give county commissions the authority to appoint their own election officers to administer local and statewide races. Kobach currently appoints elections commissioners in Shawnee, Sedgwick, Johnson and Wyandotte counties, which collectively spend between $5 and $7 million during an even-numbered year to administer elections, according to Kansas Elections Director Bryan Caskey.
Senate bill 229 – heard by the elections committee – was born out of controversy in Shawnee County when officials claimed the Kobach-appointed elections commissioner, Andrew Howell, overspent his budgets. Kobach’s office said state law gives those appointees the authority to run county elections budgets. Attorney General Derek Schmidt affirmed that reading in a nonbinding opinion last year.
Hensley said his bill, which he brought before the Kansas House more than 30 years ago, would allow local counties control by granting them budget and appointing authority. He agrees with county commissioners who say Howell overspent his budget by $85,000 in 2016 and $184,000 in 2017. In response, the county cut Howell’s salary by 15 percent.