“A Town That Just Won’t Die”: Frederick, KS Election Errors Sway Decision on Its Future


[Image via kansasagland]

Election Day 2016 brought many surprising results – but in the tiny Kansas town of Frederick, the surprise was that the election returns showed that the town would continue to exist despite a lack of support from its nine(!) residents. What’s more, it now appears the votes to keep the town alive came from people who don’t live there, thanks to an error at the polls. Kansas Agland has more:

Frederick, Kansas, it seems, is a town that just won’t die.

Residents tried to kill it during the November election. Or, at least, that’s what the Rice County town’s last mayor had expected to be the outcome.

But, just like a county seat election during the Wild West days, more people cast votes to determine Frederick’s fate than the town had registered voters.

On Nov. 8, 13 people voted to keep Kansas’ second-smallest town incorporated, according to County Clerk Alicia Showalter. In all, 20 people cast ballots.

The problem: Frederick has only nine registered voters. And, by election day, only six went to the polls.

At the Eureka township voting precinct in Bushton, election workers accidentally gave ineligible township residents who don’t live in the community ballots with Frederick’s incorporation question, Showalter said.

Unfortunately for the residents of Frederick, the Kansas Secretary of State’s office says it’s too late for the the mistake to be undone:

Even after catching the mistake – after the results were canvassed and certified by the Rice County Commission – the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office considers the vote “official,” despite the voting numbers. This occurs as Secretary of State Kris Kobach continues his efforts in fighting voter fraud – a primary focus of his office.

KSN.com has more from the SoS’s office:

“They got a ballot that they were not eligible to vote on. The voter did not commit fraud,” said Bryan Caskey, Kansas election director. “The voter wasn’t intentionally trying to sway the outcome of the election.”

Caskey said, by law, anyone can request a judge to review election results if there’s proof votes were casted that shouldn’t have been. That must be filed within five days after the results are certified.

By the time Rice County realized the mistake, it was already too late.

“At that point, there was basically nothing we could do,” said Showalter.

County officials said they don’t know when the question could appear on a ballot again, but until then, Frederick will remain a city. Frederick does not have any governing leaders right now, and until a new governing body is elected, those last appointed to the council must remain until they are replaced.

Kansas Agland reports that the city essentially exists in name only:

Frederick, an official third-class city in Kansas, is almost a ghost town.

The schoolhouse is empty, stripped of its desks. A jail cell sits in the middle of a field of wheat stubble, the metal bars and innards rusting. Old playground equipment and paint-worn cars are barely visible amid the trees after decades of neglect.

Frederick once had as many as 150 people, along with grocery stores, a lumberyard, blacksmiths and restaurants.

The population has largely been dropping ever since. Today, about nine or 10 people live in the city limits, according to residents.

Yet Frederick has continued to stave off death. It lost the railroad roundhouse to nearby Hoisington, and then a tornado in 1914 knocked the town to its knees, but it rebuilt, according to a 1975 article in The News. However, a fire in 1934 wiped out much of the business district.

The last blow for the town came in April 2015. No one ran for mayor or for any of the City Council seats in the spring election. Not one resident wrote in a name, either. In fact, it appears no one in town even voted.

For the first time since the town’s inception in 1887, Frederick had no leaders.

Root, who is still acting mayor by law, said he can’t do it alone. However, “They don’t want to serve anymore,” he said of what residents remain. Moreover, the city clerk, Melode Huggans, has been battling cancer, he said.

Frederick’s budget is due every August. Two Augusts have gone by with no budget set, said Showalter.

It’s not clear what’s next – perhaps legislative action, or another vote:

Eric Smith, legal counsel with the League of Kansas Municipalities, said at this point, everything remains the same.

Frederick is still an incorporated town with no leaders or budget authority. With no one elected at the last election, those last elected or appointed to the council are obligated to remain until replaced.

State statute has these rules for a city that wants to unincorporate, Smith said. The council still has to call for an election on the matter. A decision must pass by a two-thirds vote.

The Kansas Legislature could also officially disincorporate the town through legislative action, said Smith. The last time this happened was for the town of Treece, a polluted mining town that had 130-plus residents in 2010 but was abandoned by 2012 due to government buyouts.

In 1895, the Kansas Legislature vacated a number of Kansas cities that sprang up with settlement and then disappeared, according to The News’ archives. That included the town of Cash City in Clark County, which at one time was reported to have 500 people but was empty by the time lawmakers took action.

Showalter said the last time the city of Frederick filed a budget, it had roughly $90,000.

She said the City Council will now have to again request an election on the matter.

But until then, Frederick is still a city.

Often, when we think of the impact of election problems, we think of individual voters who have their rights challenged, limited or taken away; here, it seems, a voting problem – which probably should have been caught but was apparently too small to notice – has had a significant consequence for a town that just wants to go away.

I’ll be curious to see what happens next – stay tuned …

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