State To Investigate Sedgwick County Election Problems

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email

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The Kansas Secretary of State's office plans to investigate problems at the Sedgwick County elections office that delayed vote totals for hours after the polls closed.

State election director Brad Bryant said Wednesday officials will meet next week with Sedgwick County personnel and the vendor of the software the county uses to tally results. He says results posted on the election website inaccurately showed the number of reporting precincts.

Final results from Sedgwick County were unavailable until nearly 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Bryant says officials now suspect the problem was human error, rather than a software issue. He notes other jurisdictions across the nation have used the software without problems.

Sedgwick County also had the same problem during the August primary election

The Associated Press provided this information

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Sedgwick County's Election Commissioner said delays in the counting of votes cast in Tuesday's election will lead to changes in her office and more training for employees, poll workers and volunteers.

It took more than eight hours before all votes had been tallied. The preliminary results of all Sedgwick County precincts were not known until 1:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said the delays were caused by a mix of the number of advance and absentee ballots cast, printing errors that prevented counting machines from recognizing some paper ballots and what Lehman called human error when it came to shutting down some voting machines and uploading election results to the Internet.

The delays began early Tuesday evening when Lehman said it took longer than expected to count advance and military ballots. Part of the reason those votes took longer to count, Lehman said, was the number of ballots the Election Office received Tuesday.

"We received more in today (Tuesday) than we typically do on Election Day," she said. "More people waited to bring those in and I think we ended up with three different mail runs from the Post Office with ballots, one of which was right close to 7 o'clock."

Military ballots can be cast via e-mail, Lehman said, and must be tallied by hand. Advance ballots are cast by several different methods -- including electronic and paper -- and methods for counting those ballots involve different machines and even counting by hand.

Lehman said an election board spent hours counting about 3,400 paper ballots cast at several polling sites across the county by hand because printing problems prevented counting machines from recognizing the ballots.

"The parameters on those are set very narrow so you don't end up with fraudulent ballots running through," she said.

A problem that delayed vote reporting after the Aug. 7 primary election surfaced again Tuesday evening.

When vote totals were first published on the county's election website, they were published as "all precincts reporting," as soon as advance vote totals were finally published just before 11 p.m. Lehman said the realization that the problem from the primary would again be an issue is why nearly four hours passed before any vote totals were made public.

"Once we realized that we had the same issue from the primary, we were trying to find a fix and I should have just reported and said, 'We have the same problem again,'" she said.

Lehman said the problem was related to how the election office's software was used uploading the results to the Internet. It will lead to more training for the Election Office's staff, she said.

"I think what we will do is we will schedule going to a class with the vendor before the next election and just make sure we're squared away," Lehman said.

Ballots from the polling site at the Northside Church of Christ in the 4400 block of North Meridian in Wichita did not arrive at the election office until nearly midnight. Poll workers at that site were unable to properly shut the voting machines down. It took a conference call between Lehman. the county's information technology department, the site's supervising judge and the machines' vendor to resolve the issue.

About 1 a.m., it was discovered that two machines at the polling site at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in east Wichita also had not been properly shut down. Lehman had to track down a worker from that site who quickly resolved the problem.

"In both of those cases, those were experienced workers and so it's hard to tell," she said. "They went through extensive training, they've done this before, so it's just hard to know until we go back and talk with them and make sure that they are squared away."

Lehman said better training may prevent these problems in future elections.

She said she is confident the problems with counting votes in no way affected the outcome of any race.

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