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School bond issues fail; 56% say 'no' to Question 1
Voter turnout was almost 44%
icy main Jan. 2020
Ice on Main Street Great Bend, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. - photo by Daniel Kiewel

Great Bend USD 428 voters on Thursday voted “no” to two bond questions totaling $44,870,000 for facilities’ improvements throughout the district.

A mail-ballot election was conducted by the Barton County Clerk’s Office. The results to Proposition No. 1 were 2,538 “no” votes (56%) to 1,993 “yes” votes. The results for Proposition No. 2 were 2,886 “no” votes (64%) to 1,624 “yes” votes.

Barton County Clerk Donna Zimmerman said 56% of the 10,469 ballots mailed were returned, including 1,196 that were undeliverable. The total number of ballots counted was 4,547, a voter turnout of 43.4%. These are the unofficial results. The Barton County Commission will sit as a board of canvassers on Monday and announce the official final results.

Statement from the administration

Thursday evening, USD 428 Superintendent Khris Thexton issued a press statement expressing the administration’s gratitude for the community’s participation.

“USD 428 heard from voters today; while we may not have received the answer we hoped for, we are grateful for the community’s participation. 

“The goals of this bond proposal were to address the needs identified through an extensive process of community research and feedback, and those needs still exist. 

“USD 428 would like to thank the voters and community members who participated in this process. We would also like to thank the Board of Education, and the Facilities Master Plan Committee, who volunteered countless hours researching needs and drafting the proposal for our community. 

“We will continue to strive for excellence in our work to educate and prepare all students to become responsible citizens and lifelong learners.” 

Counting the votes

The deadline for turning in ballots to the Barton County Clerk’s Office was noon, and voters were bringing in their ballots until the deadline was reached. Ballot envelopes were stamped with their time of arrival and Zimmerman said her office would also check with the Great Bend Post Office shortly after noon to see if any additional ballots arrived there before the deadline.

After some training at 8 a.m., the four-person election board, along with other employees in Zimmerman’s office (who are all certified election workers) began the task of opening envelopes and preparing ballots for counting in the afternoon. Results were announced around 8:30 p.m. and posted on the Barton County website, under the “Election Results” link.

Paper ballots

With paper ballots that would be counted by hand, Zimmerman said several old election laws came into play.

Each ballot was stamped with a unique number on the corner. Election workers verified that each ballot was cast by the person it was issued to and then the numbers were cut off. Only later would election workers begin to count the votes, starting with Question Two, which seeks $3.12 million for a new gymnasium at Great Bend Middle School. Question Two can only pass if Question One is also approved; the first question seeks $41.75 million for school improvements that include safe rooms and other safety measures, a new wing at Great Bend Middle School so sixth graders can be moved to GBMS, and preschool classrooms and playgrounds at all of the elementary schools.

Following the mandate of another old election law, Zimmerman said the counted ballots would be strung on a thread.

The ballots were counted by a bipartisan, four-member board consisting of one Democrat and three Republicans, with three of the board members residing in USD 428 and one person living outside the district. Monica Bowers was the board’s supervising judge and the other board members were Renee Dykes, Char Engleman and Wanda Weber. They worked in pairs. Also helping handle the ballots were sworn election board workers and county employees Chris Saenz and Bj Wooding.

The last time Barton County had a mail-ballot election was in 2015, when Hoisington USD 431 voters approved an $11.5 million bond issue to construct a new Lincoln Elementary School to replace a building that was approximately 90 years old. That question passed with nearly 76% voter support.

Uncounted ballots

A few ballots returned to the courthouse won’t be counted, Zimmerman said. Voters were required to follow the instructions, which including signing the return envelopes before mailing/delivering the ballots. At least two ballots from a couple could not be counted because they switched envelopes.

Another ballot that won’t be counted arrived in the mail slot at USD 428’s District Education Center Thursday morning. Andrea Bauer, the district’s public relations director, said the ballot was discovered after 11 a.m. and she hand-delivered it to the courthouse before noon.

“I don’t know if it’s a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ vote,” Bauer said.

Ballots that were hand-delivered could be brought in by another person, such as a spouse, but in this case, the ballot wouldn’t be counted because its “chain of custody” was unknown, Zimmerman said.

The county’s election results posted online show 12 voters left Proposition No. 1 blank and 37 left Proposition No. 2 blank.

After the election

Zimmerman commended her employees for their work on this election, from preparing ballots to go out in the mail to processing them as they arrived back at the courthouse. “We don’t say enough about their hours of hard work,” she said.

The pro-bond group that supported the bond election through advertising and other expenditures will be required to submit a Campaign Finance Report to the County Clerk’s Office by Dec. 31. There was no anti-bond group registered for this election.

USD 428 officials noted that additional information about the bond elements can be found at Questions can also be directed to the USD 428 District Education Center at 620-793-1500.