Kansas voters to decide whether to add sheriff elections to the state constitution

On April 1, the Kansas State Legislature voted to send a constitutional amendment to the November ballot that would require the election of county sheriffs in counties that had not abolished the office as of January 2022 and would provide that sheriffs may be recalled from office or removed by a writ of quo warranto initiated by the attorney general.

Currently, state law provides for the election of a county sheriff for four years, except where counties have adopted, through a ballot measure, a consolidated county law enforcement agency that “assumes control of the principal law enforcement duties presently held by the county and the cities therein.” The law enforcement agency would not have a sheriff. This law was adopted in 1974 and was implemented by Riley County, the only county out of the state’s 105 that does not have a sheriff.

Under current state law, voters can recall a sheriff by submitting a petition containing valid signatures equal to at least 40% of the voters who voted in the last sheriff election.

State Rep. Eric Smith (R) said, “I just want you to consider the idea that when you have an elected sheriff out there, that individual serves you and serves your constituents as an individual who has to uphold those values that they were elected on, and you can hold them accountable for that.”

Smith’s Republican colleague, Rep. Michael Dodson, argued in opposition to the amendment saying, “If a county wishes to have a sheriff, that’s a great choice. Likewise, if a county wishes to consolidate, they should be able to do that.”

To put the legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote was required in both the Kansas State Senate and the Kansas House of Representatives, which amounted to 84 votes in the House and 27 votes in the Senate. 

This amendment was introduced as House Joint Resolution 5022 (HCR 5022) on January 13, 2022. On February 23, the state House passed HCR 5022 in a vote of 97-24, with four absent and not voting. The Senate passed the resolution with amendments on March 23, 2022, by a vote of 36-2. The House voted not to concur with the amendments and requested a conference committee. The Senate voted to rescind its amendments to the resolution in a vote of 39-1 on April 1, 2022.

In August, Kansas voters will also decide on a constitutional amendment to state that there is no right to an abortion or public funding for abortion. In November, voters will also decide on a constitutional amendment to allow the state legislature to pass laws to revoke or suspend executive agency rules and regulations. 

From 1995 through 2020, the state legislature referred ten constitutional amendments to the ballot. Voters approved eight and rejected two of the referred amendments.