Kobach: Understaffing, undertraining caused Sedgwick County’s election-night problems

12/22/2012 7:06 AM

12/22/2012 7:07 AM

Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Friday his office has completed its investigation and found that understaffing and undertraining were the primary causes of vote-counting problems in the November election in Sedgwick County.

Kobach said he will recommend that county officials increase the number of employees at the election office, which is significantly understaffed compared to the offices in Johnson, Wyandotte and Shawnee counties.

Johnson County has the largest election staff with 15 full-time employees and four part-time.

Sedgwick County has three full-time and six part-time, the report said.

In addition to more staffing, Kobach’s task force recommended that all the employees who work in the vote-counting operation go through an intensive training program on how to use their software.

Kobach said Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman will probably need to go to the Sedgwick County Commission for more money for staffing.

Lehman could not be reached for comment late Friday and her e-mail indicated she will be out of the office until after Christmas.

County Commission Chairman Tim Norton said the county has always been amenable to funding requests from Lehman and her predecessors, Bill Gale and Marilyn Chapman.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever stonewalled them on what they need or their staffing,” Norton said. He said different types of elections require different numbers of workers and the county sends some of its staff to help out on and around election days.

“We try to be good partners,” he said.

The secretary of state’s investigation was called to figure out why Nov. 6 Election Night results were delayed for hours and why early returns from advance and absentee ballots were initially reported as the full and final count.

Kobach said the vote-counting software operated the way it was supposed to, but workers in the office failed to mark an on-screen box that would have properly reported the number of precincts that had been counted.

Because of the error, the software read the advance votes, which come from nearly all precincts, as being 100 percent of precincts reporting.

He said his investigators didn’t find any problems with the final count, so while results were delayed and the wrong number of precincts was initially reported, “never were the vote totals inaccurate.”

Kobach’s task force noted that the same problem with vote tallies had occurred in the Aug. 6 primary and said “sufficient steps were not taken after the primary election to identify the cause of the problem in order to prevent the recurrence of the error in the general election.

In addition to increased staffing and training, the task force also recommended:

• Assigning office workers specific responsibilities and giving them time to perform the work, rather than dividing their efforts between multiple duties and responsibilities.
• Contracting for on-site support from its software vendor on the days before, during and after election days.
• Increasing pre-election voting test runs beyond the single public demonstration required by state law.
• Planning to count advance votes before the polls close on election day, to speed reporting and free time for regular updates.
• Lehman should obtain training on press and public relations.
• Increasing the number of polling places. The task force noted that the county has fewer than one-third the number of polling places as 10 years ago following reductions put in place by Lehman’s predecessor, Bill Gale.

While the task force acknowledged the reduction was “reasonable in light of tight budgets and an aggressive and successful advance-voting program,” it said polling sites “may have been reduced too far.”

That, the task force said, “can contribute to longer voting lines, greater travel distances and possible delays in the delivery of results to the election office.”

The four-member task force consisted of Assistant Secretary of State Brad Bryant, Assistant Attorney General Eric Rucker, Assistant State Elections Director Bryan Caskey and Ryan Kriegshauser, deputy assistant secretary of state for legal counsel and policy.

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