Deputy named elections chief

11/04/2011 12:00 AM

11/06/2011 10:39 AM

Deputy Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman has been appointed to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Commissioner Bill Gale.

Gale had recommended that Lehman be appointed his successor as Sedgwick County's top election official.

She was appointed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

"Mrs. Lehman is extremely familiar with the election process and her experience will be invaluable going into the 2012 election year," Kobach said in a statement. "Her commitment to defending the voting rights of Kansas citizens is unwavering."

Lehman's first major challenge will be implementing new voter photo-ID and proof-of-citizenship requirements passed by the Legislature this year at Kobach's urging.

She testified in favor of the new law during legislative hearings in Topeka. She told lawmakers that she felt existing law had security gaps because election officials did not have the ability to guarantee that the people they registered were citizens.

She also said requiring identification numbers, particularly on advance ballots, would help election officials remove duplicate registrations from voter rolls, and that state-issued photo ID, which can be scanned electronically, would speed up the process of checking people in to vote.

"People have to provide ID to do the most simple things in daily life, and this is a more important matter," she said Thursday.

Although the League of Women Voters opposes the new law and says it will discourage voting, the group's co-chairwoman, Ernestine Krehbiel, said she hopes the group can maintain a good relationship with the election office.

"The League of Women Voters looks forward to cooperating with her, as in the past we have had a long tradition of our cooperation with previous commissioners such as Marilyn Chapman and Bill Gale," Krehbiel said. "Her pledge I'm sure is the same as ours, to protect the nonpartisan nature of the vote and to extend the vote to every citizen as is their American right."

Lehman is a Republican precinct commiteewoman, an elected position she has held since 2006.

She said she does not plan to resign, because "What I do on my personal time is just that, personal."

She said she does plan to refrain from publicly endorsing individual candidates.

Gale was a precinct committeeman when he became election commissioner. He did resign.

"When I got here, the folks here in the office said I would have to, so I did," he said.

He said that later, he discussed the matter with the county counselor's office and found out that he wasn't legally required to resign the party position.

But, he said, "For me, it was probably best to do that."

Gale is seeking a job in the nonprofit sector. Friday will be his last day as election commissioner.

Lehman has been a full-time employee of the election office since February 2009. Before that, she was primarily a stay-at-home mom for about 10 years.

During that time, she worked with the election office as a poll worker and election judge and headed up recount boards, she said.

Gale said he hired Lehman on a temporary basis to help administer advance voting for the 2008 presidential election, which led to her being hired for a full-time position.

Gale said Lehman has worked in every area of the election office, from voter registration to hiring poll workers to tabulating the votes.

"I can't say enough about her," he said. "She's been invaluable."

Gale said his only experience when he started was glancing contact with the election office as a candidate for City Council.

"Comes to it, she has far more election office experience than I did eight years ago," he said.

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