‘I almost voted.’ Errant text message, provisional ballots frustrate voters

Voting across Sedgwick County largely proceeded without widespread issue on Election Day.

Voters reported generally short lines at polling places throughout the day, saying the county’s voting machines made the process smooth and quick.

The Sedgwick County Election Office reported earlier Tuesday it was expecting “a little higher” of a turnout this year, based on early-voting numbers.

The election office is expected to release official voter counts after the polls close Tuesday, though nearly 80,000 registered voters cast their ballots prior to Tuesday through advance voting, said Laura Bianco, Sedgwick County Deputy Election Commissioner.

That means at least 26 percent — more than a quarter — of registered voters voted early either in-person or by mail, Bianco said. That’s four percentage points higher than the 2014 voter turnout and two percentage points higher than 2010.

In the 2010 and 2014 elections, about 52 percent of registered voters cast their ballots, Bianco said.

Supervising judges at local polling places concurred that turnout seemed slightly higher than normal on Tuesday.

By 5 p.m., 1,053 registered voters cast their ballots at the Independent Living Resource Center – a total supervising judge Patty Bess was pleased with.

Margie Adair, supervising judge at the Park City Senior Center, 6100 N. Hydraulic in Park City, said she’d seen a “lot, lot more first-time voters” turn out at her polling place.

Another poll worker there added that those first-time voters Tuesday were “90 percent” women.

“Even people who are 35, 36 years old – they were all very excited to come out and vote,” Adair said.

‘I almost voted.’

Election Day was not without hiccups, however.

Max Wilson says he “almost” voted.

In reality, the 24-year-old cast a provisional ballot, one of many such votes cast in Sedgwick County on Tuesday.

A provisional ballot is used if there is any doubt about someone’s eligibility to vote. They can be used if there is an address discrepancy, if the voter reports to the wrong polling place, or in other circumstances.

If the voter is found eligible, the vote is counted later in the month.

Wilson said one of the workers at his polling place, the Independent Living Resource Center, said she had “never seen so many (address) inconsistencies” as she’d seen Tuesday.

Wilson moved in May and updated his voter registration through MyMove.com, a service that the United States Postal Service offers when setting up mail-forwarding. He received an email confirmation in July that his address had been updated with the county – but when he came to the polling place on Tuesday, his address on North Walnut appeared as South Walnut with an incorrect ZIP code.

“I live in a majority-minority neighborhood, so it was a very personal thing for a lot of folks here,” he said, noting that the three voters who filled out provisional ballots alongside him were all black and registered Democratic. “It was so reminiscent of all these news stories we’ve been hearing about making it harder for specific demographics to vote – especially when the person running (for governor) is the one who oversees elections in this state. It begs the question.”

Donald Olson, a voter at east Wichita’s Woodland Lakes Community Church, similarly had to fill out a provisional ballot because of an address discrepancy.

The voter registration card Olson received in the mail correctly listed his lot number, but on-site Tuesday the lot number did not appear in the voter registration books.

Tabitha Lehman, Sedgwick County Election Commissioner, said Tuesday evening “our provisional ballots are about right on track for an election of this size.”

“From what I can tell, looking back at previous mid-terms, we are on track for about the same percentages,” she wrote in an email.

Unsolicited texts

Some voters reported receiving texts Tuesday telling them where to go vote.

In some cases, those texts led people to the wrong polling places.

Bianco, the deputy election commissioner, said Tuesday afternoon that polling sites in Wichita and the election office had both received complaints from voters about unsolicited messages directing them to the wrong location to cast their ballots.

Some who showed at the addresses shown in the texts learned from election workers that they’d been given faulty information.

She told The Eagle the text messages were apparently sent by organizations or people who aren’t affiliated with the local election office.

She said voters can always call the Sedgwick County Election Office at 316-660-7100 to confirm their polling place.

Smooth process

Earlier Tuesday, the Sedgwick County Election Office confirmed a “strong turnout” of voters across the county flocking to the polls.

Workers at the polling place at Central Christian Church at 29th and Rock characterized turnout mid-afternoon Tuesday as good and said there had been a steady stream of voters throughout the day.

Prior to the 8 a.m. work hour, several people had different reasons for showing up to vote.

Caitlin Robinson, 26, showed up “to make a difference” before going to work. She said she was pleasantly surprised with how quick it was to vote.

LaShonda Garnes, 42, showed up early because she wanted to have a seat “at the table.” If you’re not voting, she said, you have to deal with what’s decided.

“It’s important to be out here,” she said. “Our heritage has given us this right to vote.”

The tight governor race brought John Fry, 79, to the polls.

“To retain all the Republicans I can,” Fry said when asked why he was motivated to vote. “Keep our nation free.”

Solen Yanda, 69, said President Donald Trump encouraged how he voted this morning.

“We need somebody strong,” he said. “(Trump’s) a strong leader. We need that law and order here.”

The Eagle’s voter guide