Editorial: Election integrity

Kansas election officials should welcome a university expert’s audit of voting machine data.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach and election officials in Sedgwick County should welcome an audit that would compare election results reported by voting machines in that county with the paper backup that records each ballot cast on the machines. If these election officials are concerned with protecting the accuracy and integrity of Kansas elections, they should want to know for sure whether the voting machines they are using are accurately recording the votes being cast.

That’s why it’s hard to understand why the election officials are forcing a Wichita State University mathematician to go to court to obtain the paper records that would allow her to audit the performance of the voting machines.

Beth Clarkson, the WSU mathematician, said her statistical analysis revealed patterns in the November 2014 voting that raised suspicions that “some voting systems were being sabotaged.” It’s possible that there are other explanations for the patterns, she said, which is why she wanted to compare the results produced by the voting machines with the paper records.

Because election officials in other parts of the country have reported irregularities linked to the same kind of voting machines being used in Sedgwick County, Clarkson decided that an audit would be beneficial, but her attempts to obtain the paper records have been repeatedly turned aside.

She made her first request after a 2013 election but was told the time to seek a recount of the paper records had passed. She sought the same records in a more timely fashion after the November 2014 election, but Sedgwick County officials said only a judge could release those records.

Election officials obviously need to follow the law concerning the release of this data, but it seems they could be more helpful to an expert who wants to make sure that voting machines are accurately recording the ballots of Kansas voters. Kobach has spent considerable energy talking about individual voter fraud and the threat it poses to Kansas elections. Yet, the impact of a few ineligible voters casting ballots in a Kansas election pales by comparison to the potential impact of voting machines that are inaccurately recording votes either because they are malfunctioning or because they have been tampered with.

Unlike many locations that use the same kind of voting machines, Sedgwick County incurred considerable expense to preserve a paper record of the votes being cast. The purpose of that paper record was to serve as a backup in case there was any doubt that voting machines were operating accurately.

State and Sedgwick County election officials owe it to the people of Kansas to ensure the integrity of voting machines being used in the state. Instead of putting up roadblocks to Clarkson’s request, they should be eager to facilitate her audit.