TOPEKA — If you’re voting on an advance ballot, you may want to verify that it’s the ballot for your precinct.
At least 64 people across Sedgwick County may be getting advance ballots intended for voters in Derby, and at least 26 voters in the 326th precinct in south Wichita received the wrong advance voting ballots, Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman confirmed Wednesday.
The error in the 326th precinct happened earlier this month when an election official put ballots for the 236th precinct in Bel Aire into envelopes mailed to voters in the 326th precinct in south Wichita, Lehman said.
Of the 26 incorrect ballots sent out, at least 15 voters had already mailed their votes in before elections officials realized the error.
Those 15 people will have votes for the incorrect House and Senate races counted, and their votes on a corrected ballot for their actual House and Senate candidates will also be counted, Lehman said. Election officials can’t go back and retrieve the incorrect ballots once they’ve already been counted, she said.
Those incorrect votes could affect the race between incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Brunk and Democrat Barry Stanley of Bel Aire, who are running in District 85, which includes the 236th precinct. The Senate race in that area is uncontested, Lehman said.
If those 15 voters cast new ballots in the correct district, they could also affect the race between incumbent Democratic Rep. Geraldine Flaharty and incumbent Republican Rep. Phil Hermanson in House District 98 and the race between incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Petersen and Democrat Keith Humphrey in Senate District 28.
Lehman said election officials reached a couple of the 15 voters and they said they weren't interested in voting again in the House and Senate races.
The 326th precinct that got the wrong ballots is generally bounded by Hydraulic on the west, the Arkansas River on the east, 57th Street South on the north and 63rd Street South on the south. It has 145 registered voters, including 53 registered Republicans and 36 registered Democrats, Lehman said.
Belva Mills, a 75-year-old voter in the 326th precinct, said she noticed the error when she and her husband began filling out their advance voting ballots. She said she had planned to vote for Flaharty and County Commissioner Tim Norton.
“The people that we were planning to vote for were not on the ballot, so we immediately knew something was not right,” she said.
She said she called election officials about the error and that they were helpful in checking it out.
“I told them that this may be opening up a can of worms because there are more people than us who may have gotten (incorrect ballots),” she said. “I think it’s an error no doubt. It’s a big error. But not all these people are paid and you don’t know who they are and if they’re capable of handling the jobs they’re handling. It’s something that needs to be taken care of so the next election that doesn’t occur.”
Mills said she feels confident that she and her husband now have the correct ballots.
“It’s just one of those things you wonder about,” she said. “It’s something that might seem small at the time but could turn out to be more than what you think.”
Dakota Loomis, spokesman for the Kansas Democratic Party, said he’s concerned incorrect ballots could affect other precincts that are Democratic, Republican or independent.
“Our preference always is for everyone to be able to vote on regular advance ballot or an in-person ballot,” he said. “But if there’s an issue and provisional is the only way, we trust that they’ll be counted like other ballots.”
A provisional ballot is used if there is any doubt about someone's eligibility to vote.
A second, more recent ballot error is also being investigated, Lehman said.
Incorrect advance ballots sent out Monday to 64 voters scattered across Sedgwick County include races specific to Derby. Lehman said her office is contacting those voters, perhaps reaching some before the incorrect ballots arrive in the mail. She said there’s no geographic theme to who got the wrong ballots or what their party affiliation is.
Those who get incorrect ballots can vote provisionally at satellite voting locations, wait for correct ballots to arrive in the mail or come to the Sedgwick County Elections Office for help.
Lehman said officials are monitoring advance voting returns to catch any of those incorrect ballots. She declined to say specifically who made the errors or what the consequence will be.
“Elections are not an area we can afford to make mistakes,” Lehman said. “This will be something that will be dealt with. Corrective action has been taken and we’ve discussed it thoroughly internally.”
She said that ultimately she is responsible.
“It’s my job to make sure everything coming out of here is correct,” she said.