In an upset for longtime incumbent City Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV, Hays voters on Tuesday elected two newcomers to the Hays City Commission.
The new commissioners, Mason Ruder and Michael Berges, take office in January.
Also elected in Tuesday’s general election was incumbent Commissioner Ron Mellick.
With Ruder the top vote-getter, and Berges coming in second, they will serve four-year terms. Mellick, who came in third, will serve a two-year term.
Schwaller, who is currently taking his turn as mayor, came in last, while candidate Ryan Rymer came in fourth.
Mason, who was on hand for the vote-counting Tuesday evening at the Ellis County Administrative Center, shook hands with people congratulating him when the votes were all in and counted.
"I talked to people, I put up signs," Mason said, when asked how he captured the top spot in the voting.
Voter turnout was 26.09% of the 17,886 residents registered to vote, which Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus said was very good, giving some credit to the mild weather on Tuesday.
“I am very surprised, because visiting with my election board workers throughout the day, it seemed like it was kind of slow,” Maskus said Tuesday night after the votes were in. “I was at several polling sites in Hays today and it just seems like there were not many lines, but I was told at the end of the day it really got busy in several spots. I’m glad to hear that, I’m glad people are coming out and voting.”
The results are unofficial until an audit required by Kansas statute to ensure the count was accurate is carried out Friday, and until the Ellis County Commission canvasses the results Nov. 14.
Also, the results don’t include provisional ballots, write-ins and advanced mail-in ballots that haven’t been received yet.
Provisionals are those where someone has moved or changed their name and didn’t appear in the poll books. Those are reviewed to see which ones can be counted, according to Kansas law, she said.
With a new law last year, Maskus said, advance ballots can come back through the mail up until Friday, but it has to be postmarked by no later than Election Day.
The county’s new voting equipment worked well, Maskus said.
Voters filled out paper ballots behind a privacy screen, then fed their ballot into a digital scanner, the DS200 from Omaha-based Election Systems & Software. The DS200 tabulates every vote and automatically tallies the totals for each race and each question on the ballot.
The ES&S equipment replaced iVotronic voting machines that were more than a decade old. Ellis County voters cast their ballot on the iVotronic using an electronic touch screen.
Polling site officials told Maskus that voters said they liked going back to voting with paper.
“They love the paper. They want to know why we didn’t start paper earlier,” Maskus said. “Everything just went well.”
In one case there was a ballot that got stuck, she said, which the tabulator indicated had not been counted.
“It was clearly stated that it was not tallied, so we put it through and it tallied it fine,” she said. “We had to go through a process, to open it up and not damage the ballot. Somebody could have folded it, somebody could have wrinkled it, or spilled something on it, those elements have always been with us with our equipment.”
There were many undervotes in the various races, which Maskus said occurs when a voter doesn’t take every opportunity to cast their vote for every race on the ballot.
In the race for Hays City Commission, voters could cast a vote for up to three candidates to fill the three open positions. But 1,777 voters cast their votes for fewer than three positions.
In the commission race, Ruder got 1,834 votes; Berges got 1,802; Mellick, 1,746; Rymer, 1,492; and Schwaller, 1,413.
Ruder is an environmental planning supervisor for Ellis County. Berges is a financial advisor at Ameriprise Financial Services. Mellick is self-employed in the floor-covering business.
In other races on the ballot:
Winning Ellis city mayor was David R. McDaniel; Ellis city treasurer, Faith Ann Scheck; Ellis city council, John A. Walz, Tricia Pritchett and Samuel Nicholas Polifka; Victoria city mayor, John Schulte; Victoria city council, Erica Dinges and Dustin Schumacher; USD 388 school board, Cindy Hertel, Randy S. Honas, Brian Shannon and Marty Hollern; USD 432 school board, Janea Dinkel, Kevin Huser, Tammy Lichter and Jacque Schmidt; Big Creek Improvement District, Duane F. Kuhn, Larry D. Leiker and Joe Deckman; Prairie Acres Improvement District, Shane Gregg; and Extension Council, Allen P. Roth and Tatum Sprague-Kimsey.