A public official — especially one who’s in charge of a county’s election process — should know better than to take free trips as an “advisor” to the company that has an important contract with her office.
Yet that is what Sedgwick County election commissioner Tabitha Lehman has been doing in taking trips to Las Vegas, Omaha and South Carolina with expenses paid by Omaha-based Election Systems and Software.
ES&S was the winning bidder in July 2016 for a 10-year, $7.8-million contract with Sedgwick County for voting equipment and services. Lehman was then invited to join an ES&S advisory panel.
She’s not the only one. Reporting by McClatchy shows a dozen election officials nationally accepted trips and accompanying expenses from ES&S.
Lehman is not obligated to report benefits to the state. But for comparison, the South Carolina Election Commission’s executive director reported Las Vegas expenses of $865 in a financial disclosure statement.
Lehman is correct when she says being able to meet with the CEO of the voting machine company is valuable in providing feedback.
But Lehman should pick up a phone and call. Write a letter. Send an email. Invite the CEO to Wichita. For $7.8 million, he should be willing to listen.
But don’t meet when the CEO’s paying your airfare, hotel, meals and even a show. It gives the appearance of the election commissioner being in the pocket of the company that supplies her voting machines.
Appearances are important.
McClatchy’s story indicated two other members of the advisory board had the trips paid for by their state election boards. That’s the way it should be done. Election officials still get face time with ES&S officials without the freebie.
If Lehman and the Secretary of State’s office are serious about accountability, the election office will pay Lehman’s way if there’s a next time.