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Kansas secretary of state searching — again — for a Sedgwick County election commissioner

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Kansas secretary of state searching — again — for a Sedgwick County election commissioner

Dec 06, 2022 | 2:27 pm ET
By Tim Carpenter
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Kansas secretary of state searching — again — for a Sedgwick County election commissioner
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Scott Schwab, the Republican secretary of state in Kansas, is responsible for appointing a new Sedgwick County election commissioner following resignation of Angela Caudillo, who he appointed to the job in mid-2021. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The revolving door at the Sedgwick County election office will compel Secretary of State Scott Schwab to hire the third person since 2021 to serve as election commissioner in Kansas’ second most populous county.

State law mandates Schwab, a Republican reelected in November, to appoint officers to conduct all elections in Sedgwick, Johnson, Shawnee and Wyandotte counties. Each of the 101 other counties in Kansas rely on elected county clerks to administer elections.

Schwab said applications would be accepted until Jan. 13 for the vacancy created by resignation of Sedgwick County election commissioner Angela Caudillo, who was appointed last year by Schwab. She referenced “unforeseen personal reasons” for stepping down.

The secretary of state defended Caudillo’s work in Sedgwick County, but indicated the county commission hampered Caudillo’s work by limiting election funding. Amid differences of opinion about election spending, however, the county commission added $800,000 to her 2022 budget.

Other controversy during Caudillo’s tenure included printing of ballots in Sedgwick County that incorrectly spelled words, including “pregnancy,” on ballots for the August vote on a state constitutional amendment limiting abortion rights.

“Angela led the election office through challenging times. Often with limited resources and funding from the county commission,” Schwab said. “When resources and needs are not met, and the political environment toward election officials is hostile, we lose talent. It is hard to see a good public servant leave.”

Caudillo was hired in July 2021 after Schwab declined to renew the appointment of Tabitha Lehman, who was accused of violating security protocol by accessing the state’s voter registration database from her home while undergoing medical treatment. Lehman and her two predecessors, Bill Gale and Marilyn Chapman, collectively served four decades as election commissioner in Sedgwick County.

A committee of representatives from Sedgwick County government and the secretary of state’s office will review applications and interview candidates to replace Caudillo. Schwab will make the appointment by drawing from a list of finalists chosen by the committee.

State law requires applicants to be a resident of the county for two years prior to the appointment and to be a United States citizen, at least 18 years of age and registered to vote. Preference will be given to people holding college degrees in business or public administration and information technology. The job description seeks people with a minimum of three years of management experience.

“Elections are a critical function of government, and I appreciate the committee’s prompt action to ensure a highly qualified candidate is selected to take on this important responsibility,” Schwab said.

In January 2021, Schwab announced he wouldn’t retain Lehman when her term as county election commissioner expired in July of that year. At that time, he said the security of election system and the personal information of voters would “not be put at risk, regardless of the circumstances.”

There has been turnover among the Wyandotte and Johnson county elections commissioners since Schwab took office as secretary of state in 2019. In Shawnee County, election commissioner Andrew Howell has held the job since 2012.

In February 2021, Schwab chose Michael Abbott to serve as commissioner of elections in Wyandotte County. That followed retirement of Bruce Newby, who had held the commissioner’s job since 2006. Abbott was program coordinator for election technology in the Wyandotte County election office and had experience working at AT&T.

Schwab appointed two elections commissioners in Johnson County since the resignation in 2019 of Ronnie Metsker. Metsker had been appointed by then-Secretary of State Kris Kobach in 2016 and reappointed to a four-year term in 2018.

In 2016 and 2018, Metsker was criticized for computer problems and long lines that led to delays in counting votes. In addition, he was hit with a lawsuit for refusing to disclose names of Johnson County voters who cast provisional ballots in the 2018 primary and a list of the names of Johnson County voters whose advance mail ballots were rejected because their signature didn’t match their voter record.

In Metsker’s absence, Schwab appointed interim commissioner Connie Schmidt to conduct the 2020 elections. She had been Johnson County’s election commissioner from 1995 to 2004. The secretary of state named Fred Sherman to subsequently take over as commissioner in Johnson County, and he was sworn into office in January 2021.