Politics & Government

August 5, 2014

Voters show up at wrong sites, prompting notification mailing

As expected, turnout was down for the midterm primary that concluded with Tuesday’s Election Day.

What wasn’t expected was so many people showing up at the wrong place to vote in Sedgwick County. So before the Nov. 4 general election, all registered voters will be notified of exactly where they should vote, the county’s top election official said.

“The notices will be a bright color,” Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said after the polls closed Tuesday, “so they don’t blend in with the rest of the mail.”

As for the turnout, with all precincts reporting, 18.7 percent of the county’s registered voters had cast votes. That’s well below the 25.6 percent who voted in the last midterm primary, which was in 2010.

The state turnout wasn’t available Tuesday night. A 22 percent turnout had been projected by Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

While Lehman described Tuesday as generally going smoothly, there were reports of voters going to the wrong polling site. She said she didn’t know how many voters were affected.

“We’ve changed so many polling places,” she said. “We’ve tried to get people alerted to that.”

There have been multiple changes in polling sites since state courts ordered redistricting in 2012, which caused boundary changes for precincts, she said. But the biggest shift came after seven polling sites were completely switched in 2014 for various reasons.

Registered voters were notified of changes by mail, Lehman said.

Linda Parks said she and her husband, Charles, didn’t get a notice. She said they have lived in the same house, near Central and 159th Street East, since 1999.

He took time off from work to vote at their normal polling place – Metro East Baptist Church on 143rd Street East – only to learn their precinct’s site had been switched to East Evangelical Free Church on East Harry, Linda Parks said.

“We didn’t know anything about the change,” she said.

Metro East Baptist was one of the seven sites that was closed. Nearly 9,000 voters were assigned to vote there, Lehman added, so it was decided to split the voters between other polling sites.

One was East Evangelical Free Church, where Linda and Charles Parks voted later in the day.

While at the new site, Linda Parks said she talked to “quite a bit” of people.

“None of them knew about coming to a new place,” she said. “That’s pathetic.”

Linda Gibson, supervising judge at the Independent Living Resource Center, said some people came to the voting site on West Second Street not realizing they were now supposed to vote elsewhere.

Some of those opted to cast a provisional ballot rather than go to their new voting site, she said. Others simply drove to the new location.

Lehman said some of the cards notifying voters of polling site changes were mailed months ago and some more recently.

“It depended on when the changes were made,” she said. But she noted that some voters who had their site changed by the redistricting in 2012 were also going to the wrong site.

So now all registered voters will get a notice – regardless of whether their polling site has changed – before November, Lehman said. She just has to pick out the color.

“I haven’t even talked to the printer yet,” Lehman said.

Overall, the “voting went smoothly,” Lehman said after the polls closed.

It certainly went better than in 2012, when the primary and general elections both experienced numerous problems that resulted in delaying results significantly. Final results for the 2012 general election weren’t available until almost 2 a.m. the following day.

“We have got those issues taken care of,” Lehman said. Tuesday’s final results were posted by the county at 10:10 p.m.

Since then, two full-time employees have been added to Lehman’s office to bring the total to six. The staff has had extensive training, and a representative of the vendor for the election equipment also was on site Tuesday, she said.

Last month, Lehman said her office conducted a two-week trial run of the primary at the election office’s warehouse. All ballot readers were set up and checked. Test ballots were put through machines for every polling location. Fresh batteries were installed.

“It’s something we put in place to make sure we don’t have a repeat of 2012,” Lehman said.

She also tried to speed up the early process by posting advance ballot totals immediately after polls closed. In the past, her office had waited to post any advance ballots until all those that needed to be counted manually were included.

In addition, results from Tuesday’s polling sites were posted more frequently than in the past.

“Now we’ll report every so often no matter how many results are in,” Lehman said before the polls closed, “so we have more consistent results coming in throughout the night.”

She said she wasn’t hearing of issues with photo ID, which voters have been required to present at polls since 2012.

“That doesn’t mean we haven’t had issues,” she said. “But we’ve had the law for two years, so most people are pretty used to it.”

Sedgwick County will conduct its canvassing of the election at 10 a.m. Monday at the Historic County Courthouse, 510 N. Main. Provisional ballots will be counted at that time.

Contributing: Stan Finger and Tim Potter of The Eagle

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