Sedgwick County sees 51.1 percent turnout; technical glitches slow some voters

People wait in line to vote at Sedgwick County Zoo Tuesday morning. (Nov. 4, 2014)
People wait in line to vote at Sedgwick County Zoo Tuesday morning. (Nov. 4, 2014) Eagle correspondent

Election Day in Sedgwick County wouldn’t be Election Day without some bumps.

Tuesday was no different, although it was nothing close to the woes that plagued the process in 2012, when the final results for the November election weren’t available until 2 a.m. the next day.

Faulty and aging voting machines created some blips throughout the day Tuesday. Then, at 7:04 p.m. – four minutes after the polls closed and one minute before the advance voting totals were set to be posted online – the county’s server crashed.

Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman quickly printed off totals and provided copies to the media.

“I wanted you to know I had them ready,” she said. “The server ... some things I can’t control.”

The server was back up and working by 7:36 p.m., allowing Lehman’s office to post results for the rest of the evening.

The final unofficial numbers, which the county posted at 9:42 p.m., showed a 51.1 percent turnout of the county’s registered voters.

Although that’s short of the 52.5 percent turnout in the last gubernatorial election in 2010, Lehman said, “That’s great. We’re very pleased with that.”

Voters reported having to wait a half-hour or more during rush period, particularly in the early morning and evening.

At Westlink Church of Christ, near Central and Maize Road, supervising judge Jim Pipkin said a very busy morning tapered off after noon.

“We were smoking busy in here,” he said.

In some cases, voters were greeted by faulty machines and a group seeking signatures on a marijuana petition. At one polling site, a voter had a pearl-handled pistol strapped to his waist.

The voting experience crawled by for some, and Lehman said more issues were reported with the electronic voting machines on Tuesday than in recent elections. She said that was a reflection of voting machines reaching the end of their life cycle. The machines have been in use since 2005 and 2006.

“The technology is getting old,” Lehman said. “They also get bumped around and jostled a lot when they’re being moved.”

The Sedgwick County Commission has already begun setting aside money to purchase new voting machines, she said.

Reggie Jarrell said it took him a half-hour to vote at the Sedgwick County Health Department because the touch screen for his voting machine had a dead spot in the upper right-hand corner and would not register his votes in races that happened to be placed in that section of the page. Three different times poll workers had to fix his machine, he said.

Lynn Williams, who voted at Eastminster Presbyterian Church, said no matter what button she touched in the race for the 85th District of the Kansas House of Representatives, the machine cast a vote for Democrat Patrick Thorpe over Republican incumbent Steven Brunk.

“It was weird,” Williams said.

Eventually her ballot was canceled and she voted on another machine.

Brunk said he received a call about the glitch and went to Eastminster to investigate. After talking with poll workers, Brunk said he was confident the glitch had been caught quickly and eliminated once the offending voting machine had been recalibrated. Brunk said he went to other polling sites in his district and found no other cases of “vote flipping.”

The glitch at Eastminster was caught quickly, Lehman said, and poll workers handled the situation exactly as they were trained to do.

Lynn Campbell Behnke, the supervising judge at Glenville Church on South Seneca, said that site had a huge turnout.

“But we’ve had more machine problems than we’ve ever had before,” she said.

Supporters of a petition drive to decriminalize marijuana in Wichita were at 11 polling sites. They were asking departing voters to sign a petition to get the measure on the ballot during city elections next spring, said Esau Freeman, the petition drive leader.

The group tried to get the question on Tuesday’s ballot, but the effort was 180 valid signatures shy.

Lehman said there’s no law that keeps the group from asking for signatures at polling sites.

“It’s up to the individual property owners where we’re renting to have a polling site,” she said. “We aren’t taking a stand on this.”

At Olivet Baptist Church, a man had a pearl-handled revolver in a leather-fringed holster on his waist. After exiting a voting booth, he sat down at the voter registration table for about half an hour.

Open carry is legal in Kansas and in Wichita unless a building has a sign posted prohibiting guns. As in the case for the marijuana petitioners, the property owner determines the rules on openly carrying a gun to the polling site, Lehman said.

Sedgwick County voters who had to cast provisional ballots have until 10 a.m. Nov. 13 to submit the required identification at the election office, 510 N. Main, Suite 101. That’s the date the county holds its ballot canvassing, Lehman said.

Contributing: Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rickplumlee.

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