There has been recent discussion about the Sedgwick County Election Office’s approach to media access during the primary election, and I would like to address any concerns.
To my knowledge, there was no plan in place previously regarding media access to the Election Office and the election commissioner. My goal was to change that, to focus and create a plan, and provide more coordinated access than was available in the past.
Our approach for this primary election was to provide scheduled media briefings throughout the day and evening, and opportunities to take pictures and shoot video. This was to help increase voter awareness and promote transparency by ensuring the media – which are vital in sharing election results – had consistent updates and chances to ask questions about the progress of the election.
At the same time it is necessary to find a balance, to both protect the integrity of the election process and ensure election work can be done in a timely manner. Therefore, we did not allow media to roam the Election Office unescorted as in previous years, which delays reporting results.
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I also believe some confusion arose out of the differences between this year’s primary election and the 2012 general election results reporting. As a result of technical issues with the voting machines in November 2012, election workers were counting votes by hand and media were, consequently, able to watch as votes were counted. When the machines are operating properly, as they were this year, the Election Night tabulation is done at the polls. All counting is done by the machine. Supervising judges from each site then return those results to the Election Office that evening for consolidation.
Polling sites were open and accessible to the media throughout the day, and reporters attended regular briefings and asked questions at the Sedgwick County Emergency Operations Center, one of the locations where I split my time during elections. An additional interview and photo opportunity was provided at the Election Office after polling sites closed, and reporters watched as judges handed over their results.
At no point was there an intention to deny media access to the election process. Rather, we sought a thoughtful way to ensure media had all the access they needed and more and perform our election duties at the same time.
As we look toward the November general election, we will continue to seek the best method for addressing media presence, while ensuring the election process is uninterrupted.
Tabitha Lehman is the election commissioner for Sedgwick County.