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.