Monthly Archives: December 2012

Kobach: understaffing and undertraining caused county’s election-night problems

Kobach

Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Friday his office has completed its investigation and found that understaffing and undertraining were the primary causes of vote-counting problems in the November election in Sedgwick County.

Kobach said he will recommend that county commissioners increase the number of employees at the election office, which is significantly understaffed compared to the offices in Johnson, Wyandotte and Shawnee counties.

Johnson County has the largest election staff with 15 full-time employees and four part-time.

Sedgwick County has three full-time and six part-time, the report said.

In addition to more staffing, Kobach’s task force recommended that all the employees who work in the vote-counting operation go through an intensive training program on how to use their software.

Kobach said Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman will probably need to go to the County Commission for more money for staffing.

Lehman could not be reached for comment late Friday and her e mail indicated she will be out of the office until after Christmas.

County Commission Chairman Tim Norton said the county has always been amenable to funding requests from Lehman and her predecessors, Bill Gale and Marilyn Chapman.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever stonewalled them on what they need or their staffing,” Norton said. He said different types of elections require different numbers of workers and the county sends some of its staff to help out on and around election days.

“We try to be good partners,” he said.

The secretary of state’s investigation was called to figure out why Nov. 6 election-night results were delayed for hours and why early returns from advance and absentee ballots were initially reported as the full and final count.

Kobach said the vote-counting software operated the way it was supposed to, but workers in the office failed to mark an on-screen box that would have properly reported the number of precincts that had been counted.

Because of the error, the software read the advance votes, which come from nearly all precincts, as being 100 percent of precincts reporting.

He said his investigators didn’t find any problems with the final count, so while results were delayed and the wrong number of precincts was initially reported, “never were the vote totals inaccurate.”

Kobach’s task force noted that the same problem with vote tallies had occurred in the Aug. 6 primary and said “sufficient steps were not taken after the primary election to identify the cause of the problem in order to prevent the recurrence of the error in the general election.

In addition to increased staffing and training, the task force also recommended:

– assigning office workers specific responsibilities and giving them time to perform the work, rather than dividing their efforts between multiple duties and responsibilities.

– contracting for on-site support from its software vendor on the days before, during and after election days.

– increasing pre-election voting test runs beyond the single public demonstration required by state law.

– planning to count advance votes before the polls close on election day, to speed reporting and free time for regular updates.

– Lehman should obtain training on press and public relations.

– increasing the number of polling places. The task force noted that the county has fewer than one-third the number of polling places as 10 years ago following reductions put in place by Lehman’s predecessor, Bill Gale.

While the task force acknowledged the reduction was “reasonable in light of tight budgets and an aggressive and successful advance-voting program,” it said polling sites “may have been reduced too far.”

That, the task force said, “can contribute to longer voting lines, greater travel distances and possible delays in the delivery of results to the election office.”

The four-member task force consisted of Assistant Secretary of State Brad Bryant, Assistant Attorney General Eric Rucker, Assistant State Elections Director Bryan Caskey and Ryan Kriegshauser, deputy assistant secretary of state for legal counsel and policy.

U.S. Rep. Jenkins trying to get a Kansan back on House Ag Committee

U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins talks with reporters in Topeka on Friday.

TOPEKA – U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins said Friday that she’s looking for ways to get a Kansan back on the House Agricultural Committee now that U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp has been removed from it.

But she said it may be difficult because Kansas’ other three congressional members are already on top shelf committees and would need a waiver to serve on a second one.

“It’s a heavy lift to ask our colleagues to give one of us a waiver to go do that,” she said.

House Speaker John Boehner removed Huelskamp, R-Fowler, and other conservative Republicans from their committee posts earlier this week. Huelskamp was also ousted from the House Budget Committee.

The move leaves western Kansas’ 1st Congressional District without a representative on the agricultural committee for the first time in decades.

U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, is on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Republican from Overland Park, is on the House Appropriations Committee, and Jenkins, who grew up on a dairy farm, is on the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Democrats call for county commissioners to appoint election commissioners

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (right) and House Minority Leader Paul Davis talk to reporters Tuesday.

TOPEKA – County commissioners, not the secretary of state, would appoint election commissioners in the state’s four largest counties under a bill Democratic leaders plan to file before the start of the 2013 legislative session.

The idea has failed to gain traction in the past, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said. But he said Sedgwick County’s failure to promptly produce election results in the August primary and November general elections highlight the need for local control.

“The problems in Sedgwick County are readily apparent,” Hensley told reporters Tuesday.

Previously, the Governor appointed the election commissioners in Sedgwick, Shawnee, Wyandotte and Johnson counties, Hensley said. But lawmakers shifted that control to the secretary of state years ago.

Smaller counties elect a county clerk who handles elections.

Hensley said his bill would give elected county commissioners the power to appoint election commissioners, but he said he wouldn’t oppose having voters elect a commissioner instead.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, of Lawrence, said that Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman’s performance in elections this year raised concerns, and he suggested Kobach’s office may not have provided her enough assistance to fix problems before election day.

But Davis said he doesn’t think partisan politics played any role.

“It’s a competence and execution issue,” he said. “We just may not have a team there that is capable of running an election the way it should be done.”

Lehman’s office has said software programming issues led to results not being posted until about 11 p.m. election night, hours after the presidential race had been called. Full results weren’t available until about 2 a.m. the next day, and many candidates complained that they had to send supporters home from election night parties without knowing who won because of the delays.

Democrats have sharply criticized Secretary of State Kris Kobach for getting involved in partisan politics during election season. Kobach created a political action committee, called Prairie Fire, that paid for ads aimed at defeating democrats, and he served as an honorary chair on Mark Gilstrap’s senate campaign against Democratic Sen. Kelly Kultala.

“You can either administer elections or influence them,” Davis said. “But you can’t do both and claim to be unbiased. We need a full-time secretary of state.”

Kobach could not be immediately reached Tuesday morning.

Wichita Sen. Wagle selected as new Senate President

Sen. Wagle announces her bid for Senate president at a fundraiser in October.

TOPEKA – Incoming senate Republicans elected Wichita Sen. Susan Wagle as their chamber’s new president with 23 of 32 votes Monday.

Wagle became the chamber’s first woman president, and her election signals the senate has shifted farther to the political right after being led by moderate Republicans for several years.

Wagle, who represents a wide swath of east Wichita, was elected to the House in 1990, and she won a seat in the Senate in 2000.

Senate Republicans also unanimously selected Sen. Terry Bruce, R-Reno, as their majority leader and Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, as their vice president.

Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, was elected as assistant majority leader in senate with 22 votes. Sen. Garrett Love, R-Montezuma, was elected as Senate Assistant Majority Leader Whip with 21 votes.

Wagle’s primary competition came from Arkansas City Republican Sen. Steve Abrams, who received nine votes.

Gov. Sam Brownback and his conservative allies helped conservative Republicans oust eight moderate senate Republicans in the August primary. Brownback and other conservatives viewed moderate Republicans as a roadblock to their efforts to eliminate income taxes and change how appellate court judges are appointed.

Brownback now appears to have all the support he needs to push through his agenda, with a 32-8 Republican advantage in the Senate and a 92-33 majority in the House. That’s the same party make up as the 2012 session, however the new batch of senate Republicans are markedly more conservative.

It was the first time senate Republicans conducted their leadership elections in the senate chambers. Typically, it’s done in a smaller conference room. Prospective senate leaders barred media from being on the senate floor during the secret ballot used to select leaders.

Wagle announced her bid for senate president in October during a fundraiser with Gov. Sam Brownback. That came after she underwent chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma over the summer. She said she is now Cancer-free.

Wagle acknowledged she is the first woman to be elected senate president, but she focused more on being the first senator from Wichita to become senate president. And she said her election may provide hope for other Cancer patients.

“This is a wonderful moment for me,” she said.