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Vote-counting problems delay results in Sedgwick County

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, at 10:22 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, at 6:52 a.m.

Photos

Long voting lines and another delay in getting results ruled Election Day in Sedgwick County.

Impatience with the lines didn’t seem to be as much of a problem as was the delay in getting the results posted on the county’s website, particularly since there was a similar delay in the August primary. Vote counting spilled over into Wednesday’s early morning hours.

Bob Dool, chairman of the Sedgwick County Republican Party, told the crowd at the party’s headquarters that he was “frankly disturbed” by the delay in results.

“I’m very disappointed, to tell you the truth,” Dool said. “We’re told they had to count military ballots and had more paper ballots because of the long lines, but ... this is extremely disappointing.”

Tabitha Lehman, the county’s election commissioner, said that she understands the concerns.

“We’ll continue to make improvements,” she said, “and make sure we get proper training.”

All of the problems at the election office and with the voting sites were “user error,” Lehman said.

When it was all over shortly after 1:30 a.m., the unofficial final count showed 65 percent of the county’s registered voters cast ballots. That’s 5 percent below what Lehman predicted and 10 percent short of the turnout for the 2008 presidential election.

Results won’t be official until the canvassing is conducted on Nov. 15-16. It hadn’t been determined early Wednesday morning how many provisional ballots needed to be counted.

Lehman said the delay was caused by several factors, including a rush of advance ballots received at the office right up to 7 p.m., when polls closed.

The counting machine had to be shut down after the advance ballots were tabulated and then started up again to tally ballots that came in from Tuesday’s voting sites.

But the advance results couldn’t be posted as soon as expected because of a problem the county also had during the primary. When advance votes were posted initially in the primary, the results incorrectly also said all precincts had reported. That indicated some races were settled long before they actually were.

Lehman said she was going to go ahead and post the advance results even though it would again incorrectly show 100 percent of the 289 precincts had reported.

“I just want people to be aware of that,” she said.

A worker’s input error caused the problem in the primary. A different kind of worker’s input error created Tuesday’s trouble with the software.

The advance votes — the first results of the night — were posted shortly before 11 p.m. Results from 16 of the county’s 62 voting sites finally showed up at 11:15 p.m. Shortly after midnight, results from all but 14 of the voting sites had been posted.

There are multiple precincts for each voting site.

Shortly before 1 a.m., results from 59 of the voting sites were posted.

One of the holdouts was at Derby’s Pleasantview Baptist Church where one of the machines hadn’t worked all day. But Lehman said her office had to verify no votes had been cast on the machine before the site’s results could be posted.

Lehman said another reason for the delay in the advance tabulation was because the office was still “getting a flood” of military ballots all day Tuesday. All of those have to be hand counted, she said.

Before the night was over, more than 3,200 ballots had to be counted at the election office, Lehman said.

All of the ballots at a polling site in Cheney had to be counted at the election office because the machines at the site and at the office wouldn’t read the ballots. Lehman said she thought the problem was created by the machines’ printers.

The polling site at Northside Church of Christ on North Meridian was also having trouble shutting down a couple machines after a poll worker incorrectly tried to shut them off, Lehman said. Holy Cross Lutheran Church had a similar problem.

She was on the phone with the vendor trying to work through the problem. All of the votes from the machines will be counted, she added.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach agreed the delay in returns in Sedgwick County appears to stem from software problems. He said the county is working with ES&S, a large national voting software company, to resolve the problem.

“It’s just frustrating when we can’t get the numbers as soon as we want them,” he said. “We’re all hanging on the edge of our seat watching results all around the state. At times like this, it seems it can never be fast enough.”

Republican state Rep. Brenda Landwehr also was troubled by the delay.

"It’s frustrating, it’s disappointing, and I think that Secretary of State Kris Kobach needs to come in and do his job, find out why,” Landwehr said. “Tabitha, I don’t know her personally, I haven’t really dealt with her. (But) she’s had two elections, and I think that’s enough. Two strikes and you’re out.”

Kobach appointed Lehman as election commissioner a year ago to fill the vacancy after Bill Gale resigned from the position. She had previously served as deputy commissioner under Gale.

She has overseen three elections in the county, including the vote on the Ambassador Hotel issue in February.

Earlier in the day, lines of voters snaked outside doors and down sidewalks as people waited to cast ballots for everything from president to whether Wichita should fluoridate its drinking water. Although the typical wait time to vote was under 30 minutes, there were some reports at polling places of waits up to 1 ½ hours.

“I never had to stand in line all the years I voted,” Kevin Taylor said as he approached the line winding into the parking lot at Countryside Christian Church, 1919 S. Rock Road, at about 3:15 p.m. And he’s voted for 33 years.

A few problems were reported at the polls, including malfunctioning voting machines.

Lehman added there was at least one polling place that didn’t open on time Tuesday morning.

Some voters were still waiting in line when polls closed at some sites. Those in line still got to vote. Lehman said she stopped by Holy Cross Lutheran Church at 6 p.m. and was told by a voter he had been waiting in line for 11/2 hours.

Kobach said Wichita was the only location where he had heard of waits in excess of an hour. He said there’s no hard rule for how long is too long, adding that the waits are largely a result of how much counties spend on voting equipment and how many polling places are available.

He said he still expects the statewide turnout to fall below the 72 percent that Kansas has seen in the last two presidential election years. He had predicted a 68 percent turnout.

He said 333,000 of the state’s 1.8 million registered voters cast advance ballots – 165,000 by mail, 168,000 in person.

Sedgwick County saw 92,675 people vote in advance out of its 274,369 registered voters.

About 80 people were still in line outside Countryside Christian Church at 7 p.m., when the polls closed. Some were wrapped in blankets.

The crowd had been steady like that all day, poll workers said, sometimes waiting an hour in line. “I’m just glad people were excited to vote,” volunteer Christopher Walker said.

Three people showed up after 7 p.m. to vote and were turned away. The last person in line made it to the registration table at 7:35.

At Westlink Church of Christ, near Central and Maize, voters had to wait 20 to 40 minutes early in the afternoon. Nearly 40 were in line waiting to vote when the doors opened at 6 a.m., supervising judge Jim Pipkin said.

“I wish we could get more people to vote in advance,” he said.

Several people said they had been at the site earlier in the day — when the line was even longer — but returned to vote in the afternoon.

Among those were Catherine and Ray Clasen. After casting her ballot, Catherine, 84, said she doesn’t like advance voting.

“It’s a waste of time," she said. “If (voters) had waited, they would have gotten a truer picture.”

Carol Gaston, 66, voted in the morning at the Sedgwick County Zoo before bringing her 96-year-old father, Ralph Gaston, to vote at Westlink. She brought a folding chair for him to lean on as they stood in line.

“We have a beautiful day to wait,” Carol said.

She also prefers not to vote in advance.

“I choose to wait for this day because it’s exciting to see so many people involved in the process,” she said.

She said an advance ballot for her father was requested from the Sedgwick County Election Office but it never came. “Or else we overlooked it," she said. “I don’t think we did, though.”

Ralph Gaston was just glad to be voting.

“I’m voting because it’s the thing to do if you claim to be a U.S. citizen,” he said.

At Edgemoor Recreation Center, Teri Harris, a teacher, agreed.

“I always vote,” she said, “because that’s my American right, and I can’t complain if I don’t participate. I have to be part of the process.”

Aaron Ternes, 38, said he had no problem with waiting 20 minutes at Westlink to vote for Republican Mitt Romney for president.

“(President Obama) had four years to change things,” he said.

At Midway Baptist Church, Iris Brown said, she was voting for Obama. “I think he’ll be honest with us,” she said.

There were occasional reports of malfunctioning voting machines, including one at Westlink Church of Christ that was down for about 30 minutes early in the afternoon.

Dave Brubaker, who voted at Countryside Christian Church, experienced technical problems with his machine when it repeatedly switched his vote from Romney to Obama.

“I don’t think it’s any kind of conspiracy like people on the Web write about,” Brubaker said in a phone interview.

Even though instructions for the machine say to touch the box for the candidate you wish to vote for, when Brubaker alerted poll workers to the problem, they told him to touch the names instead. Lehman said the machine was taken offline and inspected. She said no issues with the machine had been reported until that point.

Brubaker also reported an instance of electioneering at that polling place. Lehman said poll workers at the location were called and reminded of electioneering law.

“We reminded them to listen to what voters are saying even though they’re busy,” she said.

Despite a heavy volume at Christ the King Catholic Church, on West Maple, some voters reported waits as short as eight to 10 minutes.

“I’m a Republican, and I want a Republican in office,” said Clark Webb, 49. “I purposely didn’t watch any ads on this one, and I’m just going on my gut feeling.”

LaGina Walker, 34, voted for Obama at the Center for Health and Wellness.

“I don’t understand (Romney),” she said. “He seems like he’s in it for himself. He’s like, don’t care about the low income, about disability and stuff like that.”

At First Mennonite Brethren Church, 8000 W. 21st St., polling workers invited voters to cast a paper ballot if they wanted to skip the longer lines for the machines.

Troy Baalmann and his son, Jaaret, 5, of Wichita, wore red, white and blue caps to the polls at Midway Baptist Church, 5135 S. Broadway.

“I never miss an election. I’m just one of those people who believe if you don’t vote, you can’t complain,” Baalmann said. “And I have opinions on everything.”

Meanwhile, by 5 p.m. voting lines at the Health Department Administrative Center stretched around two sides of the building, at 1900 E. Ninth St.  Inside, dozens of people crowded into the room set aside for casting ballots.

Most chose to wait for the electronic voting machines, even though the line for paper ballots moved more quickly, said Stephanie Adams, supervising judge at the polling site. She added she had heard no complaints from voters and most were prepared to show their ID.

“We have had lines since we opened at about six o’clock in the morning," Adams said. "And we have been steady and consistent the entire day."

As of 5 p.m., about 10 people statewide had called the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Kansas to report what they considered to be voter fraud or voting rights abuse, spokesman Jim Cross said.

One woman told the office a voting machine was malfunctioning and switching votes. She was put in contact with her election commissioner and Kobach’s office was notified, Cross said.

One man objected to being asked to take his ID out of its plastic covering to present it to the poll worker. He was given assistance in contacting Kobach’s office, Cross said.

Another person reported someone was making a list of voters as they came through. It was reported to the local election commissioner, who sent a person out to check on the incident.

The office also was called by a woman who said a person had claimed online to have voted three times Tuesday. She was told the FBI would be notified, Cross said.

Contributing: Anne Calovich, Deb Gruver, Amy Leiker, Fred Mann, Tim Potter, Beccy Tanner, Suzanne Perez Tobias and Brent Wistrom of The Eagle

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