TOPEKA – Each county in Kansas would be required to audit election results under a bill pushed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
The bill, which does not yet have a number, comes after Wichita State University statistician Beth Clarkson sued Kobach and Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman last year in effort to audit 2014 election results. Kobach previewed the bill Monday at a meeting of the House Elections Committee.
“As you know, there was an individual in Sedgwick County who wanted to do a private audit of ballots in Sedgwick County. Kansas law clearly prohibits that. Although I favor having audits of election equipment, I believe that the rule of law trumps any elected official’s preferences, so my answer had to be no,” Kobach said, noting that a judge had ruled against Clarkson’s earlier efforts to audit 2012 election results. “So the responsible thing to do, I believe, is to offer a bill to change the law and allow the audit.”
About 30 states audit election results in some form, Kobach said. His bill, which would take effect in 2017 if passed, would require counties to conduct public audits of election results between the election and the county canvass of 1 percent of the votes cast. If a discrepancy is found, the secretary of state would have the power to call for a more robust audit.
Kobach said Clarkson’s case “put the issue on the radar screen.” He is no longer a defendant in the case, but the suit against Lehman is set for a trial in March.
“I’m very happy to hear that he understands the importance of conducting audits,” Clarkson said when told about the bill Monday. She had requested the audit of Sedgwick County election results after she said she had identified statistical anomalies.
She said one concern will be ensuring that each county has voting machines that leave a paper trail. “There are an awful lot of counties in Kansas that don’t have the ability to audit. They don’t have a paper trail or they don’t have a real-time paper trail,” she said. “And if they’re talking about doing it via electronic data files, to me that’s not acceptable.”
Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, asked Kobach why he would wait until 2017 to have the bill take effect rather than this year so that audits could be conducted after the 2016 election. Kobach said he was trying to ensure that counties have enough time to prepare for the process.
He did not offer estimates for how much an audit would cost counties.