February 24, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Osage County Clerk silent as August primary vote controversy swirls

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An election complaint filed against the Osage County Clerk alleges several serious issues occurred with the August primary election in Kansas:

  • Candidates not finding their own names on their ballots
  • Voters not finding candidates they want to support on ballots given them
  • Voters in one state representative district are given a ballot showing the name of the incumbent in the adjoining district
  • Voters potentially committing a crime validating their incorrectly-cast vote by signing a poll book in a precinct in which they did not reside

The controversy centers around the office of County Clerk Rhonda Beets. According to the office of Secretary of State Scott Schwab, an investigation into her office’s failure to update voter registrations and their handling of election day issues is pending.

Some county voters are considering a recall effort against the clerk, who reportedly responded to urgent calls for assistance from poll workers on primary election day, saying, “That (issues with voter registrations) does not matter, we will fix it in the general election” 

We reached out to County Clerk Beets for comment. She did not respond.

County resident and precinct committeewoman Ronda Harmon recalls a chaotic election day of phone calls to and from concerned voters unable to vote for the candidates of their choice, including themselves:

“I find these inaccuracies to be disturbing as a citizen, for these actions have compromised the integrity of the Primary Election on August 2, 2022, in Osage County, KS, and skewed the results of the 2022 Primary Election.  These are examples of registered voters being asked to identify their addresses, sign their names in the wrong poll book and [be] given a ballot that is not for their registered voting address, all done with the knowledge of the County Clerk, Rhonda Beets.  These people who are registered voters and citizens of Osage County were not given the opportunity to vote [on] the correct ballot and therefore were denied their right to vote for the candidate of their choice as the candidate was not listed on the ballot provided to them at the proper polling place.

The election day confusion extended to the vote for Harmon’s husband, Robert, running in the 76th legislative district. Supporters wishing to cast a ballot for him reported receiving a ballot instead for the adjoining 54thdistrict.

Ronda Harmon states her case in her Complaint filed with Secretary Schwab:

I ask for an audit of the Osage County Clerk, Rhonda Beets. The audit should include election records as well as poll books and pertinent Osage County Clerk office records. I ask for a thorough investigation by the Kansas Secretary of State’s office for these election voting errors, which most certainly have affected the outcomes of the voting process of registered voters in Osage County in the August 2, 2022, Primary Election.  Additionally, I ask for the immediate attention to this matter as these voter records and ballots with errors should be in the control of the authorized persons doing the investigation, not the control of the Osage County Clerk, Rhonda Beets.” 

Shari Weber is a former state representative, House majority leader and served as Osage County treasurer. She says the uncertainty surrounding this election day fits “a pattern of incompetency” in the clerk’s office under Beets:

“Even more so, elected public servants need to example faithfulness to the smaller tasks in County offices, like changes in citizens’ addresses and contact information. In my experience as Osage County Treasurer from 2015 to 2017 that was not the case in the County Clerk’s Office nor the Appraisers Office. As Treasurer I endeavored to coordinate the “little” tasks like accurate public records with all the county offices making our clients, the taxpayers, a number one priority along with compliance to my elected statutory duties. I have not seen compliance by the Osage County Clerk Rhonda Beets during this August primary election with accurate poll books, proper correct ballot distribution, and statutory maintenance of registered voter records in Osage County.”

Dana Webber is Osage County Republican chair. She is critical of the secretary of state’s response six weeks after the county’s complaint was filed and six weeks to the general election:

“To date, we are still awaiting a call or letter or any kind of acknowledgment from the Kansas Secretary of State’s office.  Our State Representative Ken Corbet is also being ignored as he’s tried to intervene for us. It’s obvious they aren’t doing an audit as requested. They are letting the county clerk update everything first.  Osage County residents were/are being disenfranchised due to poor record keeping at the County level.”

 Rep. Corbet predicts lawsuits will ultimately resolve the issue. But it will not be resolved by a re-vote, suggested by some. Whitney Tempel is a spokesperson for Secretary Schwab:

“There is no mechanism in state law for a re-vote to occur.”

Editor’s Note: The statement “voting in a location other than the one assigned by the voter’s address is an election law violation” was incorrect and has been deleted from this story.

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