Losing a political race is bad enough. But it’s worse when you’re not even sure you did.
An election worker’s error when reporting vote results of Tuesday’s primary led to uncertainty for Sedgwick County candidates who had to wait until as late as Wednesday morning to confirm the outcome of their races.
Sheriff Bob Hinshaw, who was defeated by fellow Republican Jeff Easter, all but gave a concession speech three hours early when it appeared the election office had tallied most of the votes shortly after 8 p.m.
“When the results first came out, it looked like 90 percent of the precincts had been counted and Jeff had won by a landslide,” Hinshaw said. He told his supporters gathered at Oeno Wine Bar in Old Town that “the voters have spoken.”
But it turned out that those votes up on the screen were just the advance ballots cast by county Republicans.
There were still a lot of votes to count — 53,887 ballots were cast Tuesday night in Sedgwick County, a turnout of about 20 percent.
“Later on, when they figured out there’s ... something wrong with these numbers, I decided until I have some confidence in the numbers, I’m not prepared to say one thing or another,” Hinshaw said Wednesday.
Hinshaw went to bed Tuesday night pretty sure Easter, a Wichita police captain, had won the primary. But he didn’t concede.
He said he got up Wednesday and read The Eagle to find out Easter would face Democrat Jefrey Weinman, a former Wichita police officer, in the November general election.
Although it made the night frustrating, Hinshaw said he wasn’t questioning the accuracy of the vote count.
“As long as the Secretary of State and the election commissioner can explain what happened and say, yeah, this is legit, I don’t have a problem with that,” Hinshaw said.
Election commissioner Tabitha Lehman said an election worker accidentally checked a box that marked any precinct with an advance vote in it as reported. The results appeared to be final numbers, but that wasn’t the case.
“This caused confusion for candidates, voters and the media because it looked like 92 percent of our precincts had reported when in fact the only numbers being reported were the advance votes,” Lehman said in an e-mail.
After the mistake, workers slowed down and focused on accuracy, not speed, Lehman said. Final results were available at about 11:15 p.m., but some candidates had given up waiting by then.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach appointed Lehman as commissioner in November after Bill Gale left the office. She had served as deputy commissioner and had worked in the election office since early 2009.
Lehman vowed Wednesday that there would not be a repeat of Tuesday night.
Kay Curtis, a spokeswoman in Kobach’s office, said no one there had received formal complaints from candidates affected by the mixup.
“We’re obviously sorry for the confusion that it caused them,” Lehman said of candidates.
She noted it was her first big election night.
Wichita City Council member Jeff Longwell, who unsuccessfully challenged Karl Peterjohn for the District 3 seat on the Sedgwick County Commission, said “maybe we’ve been spoiled by Bill Gale, who really did a remarkable job not only updating that office and moving it into new technology, but getting results out pretty quickly.”
The mixup and slow results didn’t change the outcome, he said, but “we’ll always wonder, some of us, how accurate were the results? What other kind of mistakes were made?”
Sen. Jean Schodorf, who lost to fellow Republican Michael O’Donnell, called for an investigation Tuesday night of Lehman.
Schodorf did not return calls Wednesday seeking additional comment. But on Tuesday night, she told The Eagle that “there’s got to be an investigation of this terrible reporting.”
Peterjohn gave a victory speech late Tuesday, but few people were there to hear it. Most of his supporters had left his party at West Acres Bowl and gone home before Peterjohn knew he had won.
Peterjohn said he wasn’t too fazed.
“Each election has their own idiosyncrasies,” he said. “It’s not as bad as some other elections I can think of where literally it was days later before the results became clear.”
He said he hoped the primary would serve as a “shakedown cruise” for the general election.
Peterjohn said he ran the math and realized early on that “these numbers are way too small for all the precincts to be in.”
He said he hoped the mixup wouldn’t “create more voter apathy and frustration with the process.”
“I hope Tabitha seeks out the right counsel to make sure that things get done correctly” for the general election, Longwell said.
Curtis said “there have been some conversations with the elections division to sort out what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”