A statistician employed at Wichita State University recently filed a lawsuit demanding that I, or Sedgwick County, turn over ballots and voting machine records from the 2014 elections in Sedgwick County. Why? To test her hypothetical theory that voting machines across the country are not reporting vote totals correctly. She seeks to use Sedgwick County voters’ ballots to do her research.
A July 22 Eagle editorial (“Allow audit of voting machines”) declared that I should provide all of the information demanded in this lawsuit. However, it didn’t tell the whole story.
There’s a very important reason why neither I nor Sedgwick County officials can hand over any ballots in this case – because it’s a crime to do so.
Under K.S.A. 25-2422, it’s a felony to disclose or expose the contents of any ballot after the election contest period has ended, even if the names of voters are redacted. Another Kansas law, K.S.A. 25-3107(a), specifically prohibits county election officials from unsealing the containers in which ballots are kept after an election. Only under a judicial order, when the outcome of a specific race has been contested, can those containers be unsealed.
The same WSU employee filed a nearly identical lawsuit a few years ago, seeking records from the 2010 elections. A district court judge ruled against her, holding that “disclosure of the records requested is not authorized under K.S.A. 25-2422.” The judge also pointed out that if the ballots were disclosed it might be possible to determine the votes of specific voters, even if the names were redacted.
In short, this issue has already been litigated. I’m all for more research on voting machines, but the law is the law. If The Eagle editorial board wants Kansans’ ballots to be used to test various theories about voting machines, it first must convince legislators to change the law.
And there’s another thing that the editorial failed to mention: Kansas voting machines are already put through multiple layers of testing.
Every voting system has been federally certified by the Election Assistance Commission, which uses three different independent testing laboratories to vigorously test machines. Once that’s done, the machines are reviewed again at the state level. Then, before every election, every county conducts a public test to ensure that the equipment tabulates results 100 percent correctly.
That said, I know that machines can still malfunction on Election Day. That’s why I introduced a major reform in 2011. I took steps to ensure that every county switches to voting equipment that produces a paper trail, as Sedgwick County’s does. That way, we can always verify whether the electronic equipment worked correctly, and a hand-recount of paper ballots will always be possible.
By omitting these facts, the editorial painted a misleading picture. Eagle readers deserve better.
Kris Kobach is the secretary of state for Kansas.