Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has ordered a probe into how votes were counted in the state's largest city, while facing questions about how he handled technical glitches there on election night.
Kobach (R) is dispatching a three-person team to Wichita Monday to look into a series of software problems in the Sedgwick County elections commissioner's office that delayed results until close to midnight on Tuesday. The probe, which Kobach spokeswoman Kay Curtis described to HuffPost as a fact-finding mission, comes as Democrats question Kobach, as well as a decision by the county's election commissioner, Tabitha Lehman, to bar outside observers from a room where paper ballots were counted.
State Democrats criticized Kobach's decision to leave his Topeka office at 10 p.m. Tuesday, saying that he should have remained in the office to answer questions about the Sedgwick County situation. Kobach told the Wichita Eagle that he left to take his daughter home, remained in touch with his staff, and believed that Lehman and the software provider could solve the problem.
“It is not as if I can physically fix the software for them,” Kobach told the Wichita Eagle. “I am not sure what they personally expect me to do.”
Lehman did not return messages from The Huffington Post requesting comment, but told the Wichita Eagle that software problems caused the delay in posting results, along with issues counting the ballots in some areas of the county. She said she plans to work with software providers on the issue. Lehman, who served a year as deputy elections commissioner, was appointed to the post by Kobach earlier this year.
“We’ll continue to make improvements,” Lehman told the Wichita Eagle. “And make sure we get proper training.”
Democrats have raised several other issues in terms of the election in Sedgwick County. They accused Lehman of not allowing them and others to observe a count of paper ballots, and said earlier in the day voters were being asked to cast provisional ballots if the address on their identification card did not match the address on the voter rolls. Curtis said that should not occur because the state's voter ID law does not require an address check.
State Democratic Party spokesman Dakota Loomis said the party is also looking into similar voter ID questions raised in other parts of the state and their impact on provisional ballots. Democrats in Sedgwick County have formally requested information on who cast provisional ballots and the reason the provisionals were cast. The votes could impact a handful of close state legislative contests.
Curtis said the office's lawyers have determined that the state's records law allows it to withhold the ballots until after they are counted, unless otherwise ordered by a judge. The secretary of state's office encourages an open vote count "in principle," she said, and poll agents can witness the count. Curtis could not speak to the specific circumstances in Lehman's office.
Levi Henry, a poll agent for Democrat Keith Humphrey's state Senate campaign, said he attempted to obtain access to the count, but was not allowed in. He said Lehman did not explain why.
"Tabitha never came out to speak with me," he said. "She stonewalled everyone, including media, that night."