As expected, voter turnout low to select City Council finalists

02/26/2013 10:25 AM

08/11/2014 2:41 PM

By 7:01 p.m. — one minute after Sedgwick County’s polls closed in Tuesday’s primary election — all 1,547 advance ballots were posted without anything going haywire.

That quickly answered one concern.

Problems with posting advance ballots in the county’s past two elections caused long, long delays in delivering final results and triggered an investigation by Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

By 8:30 p.m., all results were final and posted. That was about 5 ½ hours faster than in the November election.

“When I learned that all of our polling sites opened on time at 6 (a.m.),” Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said, “that’s when I felt relieved.”

No small thing considering nearly 7 inches of snow and strong winds overnight made getting to the polls treacherous for election workers and voters.

Of course, this election was nowhere near the size of the one in November and August, when troubles arose.

Only a little more than 4,000 people voted in selecting finalists for three Wichita City Council districts for the April 2 general election. Countywide, a lowly 4.69 percent of the nearly 91,500 registered voters eligible to cast ballots actually did so.

“That’s really poor,” Lehman said. “It’s disappointing, especially with the snowstorm and election workers putting themselves at risk to get to their sites.”

The primary was the first election since Kobach investigated Lehman’s office. In a report issued in late December, Kobach cited “preventable human mistake” in using the software.

The report recommended that the county increase its staffing level and the staff undergo additional training.

The vendor that supplies voting equipment to the county conducted nearly three months of training, and a full-scale mock election was held in January.

Tuesday’s primary was seen almost as a live, dry run. Only 24 polling sites were needed, well below the usual 62.

“Obviously with the low turnout, we can get the results out faster,” Lehman said.

To help ensure the sites opened on time, county workers used four-wheel vehicles to pick up two poll supervisors and one worker because of the snow. In addition, a county official – ranging from Commissioner Richard Ranzau and division directors to administrative assistants – was assigned as backup help for each polling site.

Ranzau went to a polling site near his house on North Meridian.

“It was a contingency thing,” he said. “I think the county has good people. We work together well and help each other out when needed. But I really didn’t have to do much.”

All of the poll workers arrived at the site on time. Ranzau said he stayed for about an hour to help set up.

At one site, a county employee had to be sworn in as an election worker and helped for about an hour until the regular poll worker arrived. Other county volunteers helped with such odd chores as putting out election signs.

Voting picked up a little after roads began to clear, but it was still pretty slow going.

Alan Lindal used his bare hands to clear snow off his car windows so he could vote at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Riverside.

“Oh, no, this is a piece of cake,” Lindal said when asked if he considered forgoing voting because of the weather. “I only live three blocks away. I could have walked. My neighbors just did walk over.”

Two of those voting at Westwood Presbyterian Church on West Maple were Mike and Pam Baker.

“In these kinds of elections,” said Pam Baker, a teacher at Kensler Elementary, “older people do most of the voting, and this is the kind of weather that they don’t like to get out in.

“We like to vote. It gives us the right to complain later.”

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