Editorial: Election integrity

Voting and vote-counting glitches in Wichita carry a cautionary message for the rest of the state.

Voters in Wichita and the rest of Sedgwick County have a right to be upset with the handling of Tuesday’s general election.

The situation is a reminder that, amid all the talk of potential voter fraud, human error and the vulnerability of computerized voter systems may pose a far greater threat to the integrity of the American voting system.

Because of what the county’s election commissioner now admits was a case of “user error,” Sedgwick County was unable to report any election results until nearly 11 p.m. Tuesday and didn’t have full results until almost 2 a.m. Wednesday. Even more maddening is the fact that a similar situation delayed results after the August 2012 primary election, and officials apparently weren’t able to correct the situation before Tuesday’s vote. At least 64 county voters also reportedly received advance ballots for the wrong precincts in Tuesday’s election.

According to Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman, Tuesday’s delays were tied to malfunctioning voting machines at several sites and a problem with the way advance ballots were posted. She also said that staff cuts and the fact that her staff was relatively inexperienced also contributed to the problems.

Some long-time staff members left the office after the former election commissioner, Bill Gale, stepped down from that office in November. The Kansas secretary of state appoints election commissioners in the state’s four largest counties, so Kris Kobach appointed Lehman, who had been recommended by Gale.

A number of officials and the Wichita Eagle are tired of the election excuses and are calling for Lehman to be replaced. They point out that the election commissioner’s job will become even more complicated when new laws take effect on Jan. 1 requiring first-time Kansas voters to show proof of citizenship when they register.

According to a representative of his office, Kobach isn’t considering replacing Lehman but is planning to investigate the balloting problems and make sure they are resolved before spring city and school board elections in Wichita.

Since taking office two years ago, Kobach has frequently touted the need to protect the integrity of elections by instituting voter ID and proof-of-citizenship requirements. The situation in Wichita also shows that running efficient and professional elections that allow voters to cast their ballots and receive voting results in a timely manner also is a key part of giving officials and voters confidence in the accuracy and validity of the election system.