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State official weighs in on county’s late results Low staffing behind Election Day delay?

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, at 6:35 a.m.

Fewer staff members and the way workers managed results appear to be why vote totals from the Sedgwick County election office were so late last week, an official with the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office said after a meeting Tuesday in Wichita.

State election director Brad Bryant said he and three other staff members from the Secretary of State’s Office met for about two hours Tuesday afternoon with Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman and one of her staff as well as a representative of the company that makes the software Lehman’s office uses.

“We really focused on management and resources,” Bryant said. “She may need some additional resources in terms of personnel and technical training on voting machines. Without getting too specific, we have to go back and have a meeting with Secretary (of State Kris) Kobach. He will issue a report that will include some recommendations.”

More staff for Lehman’s office may be one of them.

“Overall staffing levels might be a bit low for a jurisdiction of Sedgwick County’s size,” he said. “People do want results fast, and they want them accurate. There are some ways they can improve that in Sedgwick County. On Election Day, especially in a presidential election, that’s when all hands need to be on deck.”

Replacing Lehman “hasn’t been part of our discussions yet,” Bryant said.

“That would be the secretary’s call,” he said. “He sent us down there without limits or restrictions and directed us to get to the bottom of the problem. So far none of the solutions we’ve considered have been the removal of the election commissioner.”

Lehman said she was “very grateful” for the meeting with state leaders.

Tuesday’s meeting came after complaints about the speed – or lack of speed – at which general election results were made available to the public. Lehman’s office didn’t post any results until about 11 p.m., well after the national presidential election had been called. Full results weren’t made available until shortly before 2 a.m. Nov. 7.

Many candidates ended watch parties early, going home without knowing who won instead of celebrating or taking solace with friends at a loss.

Kobach will issue a report at some point about what will be done to prevent future problems.

The primary election in August in Sedgwick County also was plagued with woes, with results appearing complete when they were not.

“We discussed the problems and some possible approaches to solving or preventing it, more importantly,” Bryant said after Tuesday’s meeting.

Problems both election nights weren’t the fault of software used by staff in Lehman’s office, Bryant said.

“It’s more of a management problem. They needed to manage the results of their tabulation software differently,” he said.

“When they posted (results) on the website, they didn’t do a couple of things that would have kept them from looking complete.”

Lehman warned about 11 p.m. the night of the general election that she was about to release results that the website would show were complete but that staff knew were not.

“That problem repeated itself, and that was an area of concern for Secretary Kobach,” Bryant said.

Bryant said one recommendation may be to release advance ballot results shortly after polls close. He said staff in Lehman’s office “were trying to produce a majority of results at one time” instead of doing frequent updates.

Some workers also may have been “doing too many things. They couldn’t do what their primary task was at the time.”

The county election office had nine full-time employees in 2008 during the previous presidential election. It now has four. The office’s budget in 2008 was $1,195,826. It’s now $755,582, Lehman said.

The office hired 10 temporary workers on election night, she said.

“I think we had a very good discussion,” Lehman said of the meeting. “I’m looking forward to their recommendations. I believe the secretary of state’s office will be releasing some kind of statement about it.”

Lehman stressed that the results, while delayed, were and are accurate.

“We have no issue or question about the results,” she said. “It’s simply the timeliness by which they got out.”

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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