TOPEKA — State Sen. Randall Hardy knows agony of defeat and joy of victory of a razer-thin municipal election.

The Salina Republican prevailed in a 2015 race for Salina City Commission after a recount of ballots resolved in his favor a 2,141 tie that was temporarily broken with a flip of a coin for his opponent. A recount revealed 40 ballots hadn't been properly counted, and allocation of those votes provided Hardy the margin of victory.

"There was a jam in a counting machine," he said. "It was kind of a fluke thing, but fortunate in my case."

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, proposed legislation that would require the Kansas secretary of state's office to pay for municipal election recounts in general elections if the vote difference between candidates was less than half of 1% of votes cast. Under the current system, cost of recounts in local races is absorbed by the party seeking the recount if the election outcome doesn't change. If the party triggering the recount prevails, the county must absorb the cost.

Haley's bill before the Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee would extend to municipal races the provisions in Kansas law that compel the state to finance recounts in extremely close elections for state and federal office.

"All this bill does is to add municipalities to the current list of automatic recounts, if timely requested, charged to the state and not to a candidate or candidate committee. Often, candidates cannot afford the currently required high cost," Haley said. 

Amanda Stanley, general counsel to the League of Kansas Municipalities, said the organization wouldn't oppose the bill because the reform would make the state bear the cost of a municipal recount. The organization's members will object if the legislation is amended to create an unfunded mandate on city governments, she said.

Harvey County Clerk Rick Piepho said he opposed the bill because it would be unfair to require all Kansas taxpayers to contribute to the cost of recounts for municipal offices that serve interests of a sliver of the population.

Three 2019 elections in Harvey County would have met criteria for the defeated candidate to request a free recount under Haley's bill, he said. None of the losing candidates in the Halstead City Council, Newton City Commission and USD 373 Board of Education races sought a recount, he said.