One glitchy election night can be forgiven. A second one as unbelievably bad as Tuesday’s election night is cause for alarm – and a new Sedgwick County election commissioner.
Tabitha Lehman was appointed to the job a year ago by Kris Kobach under the state law that gives the secretary of state the power to pick the top election official in each Kansas county with a population of more than 130,000 – Sedgwick, Johnson, Wyandotte and Shawnee. (In other counties, running elections is among the duties of the elected county clerks, so they are appropriately accountable to voters.)
Lehman and her staff have had unusual hurdles in 2012, including the new voter-ID rules and the sometimes uncooperative electronic ID scanners that verify voters’ information. But voters and candidates were troubled by the August primary, when Lehman released incorrect totals early on and final results weren’t released until 11:15 p.m. And the worst was yet to come.
At least 64 county voters received advance ballots for the general election intended for other precincts. Then on Tuesday night, the public waited and waited as election returns rolled in across the country and state and the presidential election was decided. Lehman offered serial excuses for the delay and confusion – a flood of advance ballots, malfunctioning software and machines, worker errors, etc. But it was hard to imagine any justification for the failure to provide any results whatsoever until nearly 11 p.m., and then the confusion about how many precincts were included. Final unofficial totals weren’t released until after 1:30 a.m.
“It’s just frustrating when we can’t get the numbers as soon as we want them,” Kobach said, in one of the night’s understatements.
The public will learn more about what went wrong as Kobach’s office conducts an investigation – which is certainly called for. But it’s of further concern that Lehman’s job will get more complicated as the voter-ID law requires that anyone registering to vote as of January prove U.S. citizenship.
Sedgwick County voters will return to the polls early next year for municipal and school board elections. When they do, they will expect competence and timely returns, not excuses, from their election office.