In its autopsy of Sedgwick County’s fiasco of an election night, Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office found the need for more employees and training but no need to replace his chosen election commissioner, Tabitha Lehman. He’d better ensure that changes are made, because a botched 2013 municipal election would be Lehman’s third strike.
The report by a four-member task force from Kobach’s office, released Friday, badly understated what happened on Nov. 6, saying that “results were not posted on the county’s website as early as expected or as early as had been accomplished in prior years.”
Prompt and accurate election results aren’t just some nicety that Sedgwick County has come to expect. They are a necessity.
And the confusing first results on Nov. 6 weren’t released until nearly 11 p.m. – four hours after the polls had closed and half an hour after the presidential election had been decided – with no way to tell how many precincts were included. The office’s final unofficial totals didn’t come until after 1:30 a.m.
Candidates and voters in Sedgwick County were especially impatient and incredulous as they waited, because the general election had been a second chance for Lehman after the problematic August primary, when precinct totals also had been wrong early on and final tallies hadn’t come until 11:15 p.m.
If avoiding the problem with the precinct totals was as simple as “checking a box on the screen during tabulation,” as the report concludes, Lehman and Kobach should have made every effort to get the box checked. Yet it happened again.
Some of the report’s promising recommendations sound like things the office should have been doing anyway, such as counting advance votes before the polls close on Election Day and doing more test runs of voting procedures.
The task force found that Sedgwick County’s election office is badly understaffed when compared with those in Johnson, Shawnee and Wyandotte counties – not surprising, considering that the office’s budget has been reduced by 37 percent since 2008. Cuts have consequences.
It also recommended more training on the software that operates the voting equipment, as it raised the question of whether former Election Commissioner Bill Gale’s drastic 70 percent reduction of polling places in 2006 went too far. The report suggests adding polls for gubernatorial and presidential elections.
Predictably, one thing the postelection report did not recommend was a rewriting of the state law that gives the secretary of state the power to appoint the election commissioners in Sedgwick, Johnson, Wyandotte and Shawnee counties. But that should be on the table for legislators.
If Sedgwick County’s recent experience teaches anything, it’s that the state’s largest counties deserve more say, and accountability, in who runs their elections.
Meanwhile, though, Lehman, Kobach and Sedgwick County commissioners should be partners in getting the office the resources necessary to handle future elections, starting with the Feb. 26 primary for municipal and school board races. The suspense on election night should concern who is winning, not whether the results will ever come.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman