Politics & Government

August 7, 2012

Vote totals trickle in slowly in Sedgwick County

Election results for Sedgwick County primary races came in slowly Tuesday night.

Election results for Sedgwick County primary races came in slowly Tuesday night.

The slowness of the returns followed an error by the county election office earlier in the evening that caused the initial returns, from advance ballots, to show up as much more complete results on the county’s website.

The resulting confusion — with candidates thinking early on that they’d either won or lost — led at least one candidate to call for an investigation of the county election commissioner.

“There’s got to be an investigation of this terrible reporting,” a weary Jean Schodorf said at about 10:15 p.m. at the Wichita Boathouse, after most of her supporters had left her watch party and she prepared to go home to go to bed. The numbers that had come in to that point made her think she had probably lost her state Senate race to Michael O’Donnell, but she wasn’t able to definitively concede. “I’ve never seen it so slow. I’ve never seen anything so poorly handled. It’s just atrocious.”

The problem began when election officials checked a box in an electronic form that they shouldn’t have, causing the computer system to report on the election website that all ballots had been counted, said Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman.

Actually, only the absentee results were included in that early tally, she said.

While the glitch didn’t affect the actual vote count, it did prompt the vote counters to slow down and double- and triple-check their work to ensure they didn’t make any more serious mistakes, Lehman said.

She said the problem stemmed from a lack of experience among new staffers at the office. The election office has seen substantial turnover and some staff cuts since Lehman took over, she said.

Even after the final reports were reported just before midnight, Lehman said she was recalling a computer expert to the office to fix misreported precinct numbers.

Lehman said she also had to have her password reset to report the results to the Secretary of State’s Office in Topeka.

Lehman said the staff will try to apply lessons learned when they conduct the general election three months from now.

Asked what she will change, she replied “more staff.”

About 20 percent of registered voters turned out for the primary election in Sedgwick County. Lehman had predicted 15 percent turnout in the county and Secretary of State Kris Kobach had predicted 18 percent statewide.

During the day, there had been glitches as polling places in Sedgwick County went electronic with a new voter ID law.

“Some of this is new equipment, and we’re working out the kinks,” Lehman said of the problems. “It hasn’t been bad. It’s been off and on throughout the day. This gives us a chance to iron those out before (the) presidential (election). When we come into the high turnout numbers, we’re ready and prepared for that.”

For the first time in a statewide election, voters had to show a government-issued photo ID – a current driver’s license, a state identification card, a U.S. passport, a public-assistance card, a concealed-carry permit, a military ID, a government employee ID or a university student ID.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach said the new law requiring voters to show a photo ID had gone smoothly, although he acknowledged that some still disagreed with the law.

At Westlink Church of Christ, Pam Mitchell, 61, said, "I love that they’re checking IDs."

Wichitan Martha Ealy, who voted at Christ the King church on West Maple, said she thought the new electronic books were an improvement.

“I thought it was faster because everything came off my ID. They used to have to go through books” looking for voters’ names, Ealy said.

But after voting at the Senior Center in Park City, Vivian Goodman, 67, said the voter ID law was a “deliberate move” on Kobach’s part to “deny many voters the ability to vote.”

The new ID scanning machines delayed voting at Bel Aire City Hall. Election officials there said both machines refused a number of times to scan people’s driver’s licenses.

Lehman said she had also gotten complaints after the elections office sent out 140 mail ballots on July 19, but they apparently never arrived at voters’ homes. The elections office issued replacement ballots to those who called. Others were supposed to be able to vote in person.

“Our concern is that these people get to vote,” she said.

At least one voter who showed up to vote at his polling place Tuesday was told that he was registered in the system as having already voted. Election workers allowed him to cast a provisional ballot.

Lehman said that because the voter had been recorded as having been sent an advance ballot, the voting machine showed him as already having voted. His provisional ballot will be counted, she said, as will those of other voters in the same situation.

She said she was also somewhat concerned about having 140 ballots floating around, but that no one had tried to use them to vote illegally.

Contributing: Dion Lefler, Annie Calovich, Dan Voorhis, Stan Finger, Rick Plumlee, Brent Wistrom, Roy Wenzl and Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle

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