The top election officer of Johnson County resigned Thursday to close a nearly four-year period clouded by delays in reporting results of voting, the botched rollout of a new election computer system and a violation of the state's open record law regarding rejection of nearly 1,000 ballots.
Ronnie Metsker, former state legislator and Republican Party official, was appointed in 2016 and reappointed last year. He submitted his resignation effective immediately rather than complete a term due to expire in September 2022.
Secretary of State Scott Schwab accepted the resignation, assumed supervision of the Johnson County Elections Office and opened the application process to identify a replacement for Metsker. In a statement, Schwab didn't explain why Metsker quit.
"Under his management," Schwab said, "the Johnson County Election Office oversaw a new era of election administration with modern technology and the implementation of a new voting system. We are grateful for his service and leadership and wish him well."
Under Kansas law, the Kansas secretary of state chooses election commissioners in counties with more than 130,000 residents. That standard applies in Johnson, Shawnee, Sedgwick and Wyandotte counties.
Metsker's resignation letter doesn't offer an explanation for his decision to leave the position.
"I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to the employees of the election office for their dedication and hard work," Metsker said. "The progress made during my tenure would not have been possible without them. I depart with confidence the office is positioned to thrive and succeed."
In the August 2018 primary election, Johnson County rolled out the $10.5 million ES&S Express Vote system recommended by Metsker. Computer software problems were blamed for a 13-hour delay in posting election results, including tallies influential in deciding outcome of the GOP primary gubernatorial battle between Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Metsker, who had been appointed commissioner by Kobach, said at the time he was "embarrassed" by the technical glitch.
Kobach was declared winner of the primary by less than 350 votes out of 315,000 cast, but lost the general election in November to Democratic candidate Laura Kelly.
When reappointed to the commissioner's position in August 2018, Kobach said there had been problems with the voting system selected by Metsker, but Metsker "addressed the problem swiftly and with competence."
A lawsuit was filed in Johnson County after Metsker declined to reveal names on 900 ballots rejected by his office in the 2018 primary. About 150 were trashed because the signature on the ballot didn't precisely match the signature on voter registration forms. In February, a Kansas judge ruled against Metsker and declared the office in violation of the Kansas Open Records Act.
Metsker was initially appointed commissioner during February 2016. In November 2016, Metsker presided over voting in Johnson County and the office experienced significant delays in reporting results.
Schwab said he created a six-member committee consisting of representatives from Johnson County and the secretary of state’s office to review applications and interview candidates for the vacancy. The panel will recommend three finalists to Schwab, who will make the final determination.
"We have developed a collaborative process between our office and county officials to select the next election commissioner," he said. "It is imperative local officials play a role in finding a qualified candidate to oversee their election office."