Politics & Government

Kobach: Some Kansas votes not counted because of glitch

Secretary of State Kris Kobach testifies before the House Elections Committee on Wednesday.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach testifies before the House Elections Committee on Wednesday. The Wichita Eagle

An unknown number of potential Kansas voters were blocked from casting ballots in the November election because a glitch in the state’s voter registration website prevented them from fully registering.

More than 40,000 people cast provisional ballots in November’s general election in the state’s 10 biggest counties. The majority of those ballots were counted, but 13,717 were not for a variety of reasons.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach told the House Elections Committee on Wednesday that the most common reason was that the person was not registered to vote. About 74 percent of the uncounted provisional ballots fell into this category.

A total of 2,194 provisional ballots went uncounted in Sedgwick County, and 1,471 of those were because the person was not registered, according to an e-mail from the county’s election commissioner, Tabitha Lehman.

Kobach said the “vast majority” of those people are most likely people who came to the polls without attempting to register first, something that happens every year.

However, some portion of that group could have been people who thought they were registered but were affected by a glitch in the state’s voter registration website.

Kobach said his office became aware of a glitch that occurred for a few days in October because of the high number of people using the registration website in the build-up to the election.

People who used the state’s website, which is run by the Kansas Department of Vehicles, could have gotten a message that they had completed their voter registration application even though the state did not record that registration.

His office instructed local election officials to treat anyone who presented a screen shot showing that they had completed the registration process through the website as if they were registered to vote. But his office did not announce that to the public.

Kobach said his office did not do a public announcement because “we were still trying to get a grasp of what the problem was.”

Rep. Brett Parker, D-Overland Park, questioned why the secretary of state’s office did not let Kansans who registered during October know that their registration status could be incomplete.

“I’m not going to take a screen shot regardless because I don’t think there’s a problem, but even if I did I wouldn’t know that I needed to bring that in,” Parker said.

Kobach said that if these voters had checked with their county election office, or on the state’s voter information website, they would have found they weren’t registered.

He said his office is trying to get the number of people who presented a screen shot at the polls. He said it is unlikely they’ll be able to determine the total number of people affected by the glitch.

“What we don’t know is the total number of people who attempted to register online and didn’t take a screen shot and subsequently showed up to vote,” Kobach said. “And there’s no way we can know it because the DOV (Department of Vehicles) computer system wasn’t recording it during those few days the glitch was occurring.”

In addition, roughly 2 percent of the uncounted ballots, 353, occurred because the prospective voter had not brought a photo ID to the polls as required by Kansas law and did not provide an ID after casting a provisional ballot.

Lehman said in an e-mail that 46 ballots in Sedgwick County weren’t counted because of a lack of ID. Other reasons include a missing signature, signing the wrong name and the use of the wrong envelope for mail-in ballots. Sedgwick County also had two prospective voters mail in ballots for the primary during the general election, which could not be counted.

Kobach gave the House committee an overview of the litigation facing the state’s proof of citizenship law, which requires voters to provide a birth certificate or some other evidence of their citizenship when they register to vote.

The policy was not fully enforced in 2016 because of court rulings at the state and federal level that blocked Kobach from requiring proof of citizenship for voters who registered at the DMV or used a federal registration form.

Kobach has introduced a bill in the Senate that would enable him to set a tiered voting system, which would bar these voters from participating in state and local races. Kobach attempted to do this in 2016 but was blocked by a Shawnee County judge who said he lacked the authority.

“We’re appealing his ruling,” Kobach said, contending that he does have the authority. “But just as a safety precaution we’re going to ask the Legislature to go ahead and pass that more specific provision.”

Micah Kubic, executive director of the Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an e-mail that Kobach’s introduction of the bill is a tacit acknowledgment that he lacks “the authority to segregate voters into separate, unequal classes.” The ACLU represented the plaintiffs in the case.

“It also is discouraging that Sec. Kobach continues to use his energy and resources to try and find ways to restrict the right to vote,” Kubic continued. “Despite defeat after defeat after defeat in court, he continues to work to make it harder for people to vote. We wish that he would instead use his energy and resources on making it easier for eligible citizens to vote and participate in American democracy.”

The top election official in Kansas claimed that millions voted illegally in 2016, but can't point to hard evidence to support that. (Nov. 30, 2016/Bryan Lowry/The Wichita Eagle)

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and National ACLU attorney Sophia Lakin argued in court over whether the state can legally exclude federally registered voters from state and local elections if they don't provide documented proof. (9/21/2016)

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3