Sedgwick County Commission backs audits of election results

Kansas needs to clear the way for checking the accuracy of its voting machines.
Kansas needs to clear the way for checking the accuracy of its voting machines. AP

Whatever happens to the ongoing lawsuit by a Wichita statistician seeking to audit Sedgwick County election results, Kansas needs to clear the way for such reasonable checks on the accuracy of its voting machines.

Praise is due County Commissioner Jim Howell and his colleagues for recognizing that need, and including language in their 2016 legislative platform saying that “Sedgwick County supports the passage of legislation that permits, under certain circumstances, the audits of election results. The purpose of such an audit would be to verify that the reported election results are consistent with the ballots that were actually cast.”

The commission’s advocacy is a positive response to the efforts by Elizabeth Clarkson to access paper tapes on which votes were recorded in Sedgwick County in the 2014 election and assess their accuracy. Clarkson, whose day job is as statistician at Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research, has said she found statistical anomalies that warrant further investigation. She failed to win a similar legal challenge several years ago.

Howell, who raised the issue to his fellow commissioners, recently told The Eagle editorial board he thinks a statutory change would enhance transparency: “To me it’s very important.… We ought to get this fixed.”

The county platform defers to the Legislature on the details. But Howell said he envisions a process in which documents could be inspected in a supervised setting, with “bipartisan people sitting there,” to enable verification that voting machine totals at the end of an Election Day match the actual button pushes recorded throughout the day on the machine tapes.

“I would like the record to show that we’re fighting for the audit…. We’re not scared of the audit,” said Howell, adding that he believes the numbers will match. He acknowledged that the official resistance to Clarkson’s request and lawsuit are making people think there’s something to hide.

“I cannot imagine people in Topeka not voting for this,” said Howell, who served four years in the House before joining the County Commission last January.

When Secretary of State Kris Kobach recently was dismissed as a defendant in Clarkson’s lawsuit, he said that “the letter of the law is clear regarding the auditing procedures of election ballots.” Another court may end up agreeing with him.

But Kobach, as the state’s chief election official, should not only support such legislation allowing election audits but lead the effort to pass it.