Election Protection Report General Election
With new voting restrictions in effect in Kansas and stories of voter suppression surfacing across the nation, KanVote election protection volunteers resolved to keep a close eye on the elections this year. KanVote volunteers engaged in each step of the voting process to assess the functionality of our election system. After noting significant shortcomings in the handling of the primary elections, volunteers were dismayed to find the same errors repeat themselves during the general election. The observations made by volunteers throughout the election cycle demonstrate the need to improve our dysfunctional election system, and urge us to reconsider further complicating the voting process by adding more stringent restrictions.
Before the Elections: Registration and Advance Voting.
Before the elections took place, KanVote received complaints that voter registration information that had been submitted by voters was failing to appear on the state’s voter database. One particular instance, monitored closely by KanVote, involved a voter whose information had not been updated despite repeated registration requests submitted on state welfare forms, a method of voter registration protected by federal law.
Problems involving advanced voting left voters with wrong ballots during both the primary and general elections. After a computer crashed at an advance voting site in Wichita during the primaries, voters were given paper ballots from the wrong precinct. A similar situation occurred during the general election after election workers mailed ballots intended for another precinct to at least 90 Sedgwick County voters. This error gave voters who had been provided with the wrong advance ballot the ability to influence a race out of their precinct. Some were also given the ability to vote in their precinct even after casting a ballot in the wrong precinct. This was the first of several repeat errors that would take place during the general election.
Election Day: Onsite Poll Watching
Election protection volunteers were on site the moment polls opened at 6 am, until the last voters completed their ballots around 7pm. Volunteers organized poll watching shifts at Evergreen Recreation Center (north midtown), Linwood Recreation Center (south midtown), Sedgwick County Health Department (near northeast), and Sharon Baptist Church (Plainview). While the first observations most volunteers noted were the enthusiasm of voters and the helpful and courteous approach taken by election workers, it didn’t take long before they noticed complications in the voting process.
Any complication resulting from election worker error, voter misinformation, or voter ID requirements often resulted in the casting of a provisional ballot. By the end of the day over 6,400 provisional ballots were cast in Sedgwick County.
Name and Address Inconsistencies
The most frequently observed complications noted by poll watchers during the primary and general elections had to do with voter name and address inconsistencies. In both elections voters were denied access to a conventional ballot after being informed that their current name or address did not appear on the poll list. During the general election several KanVote volunteers reported instances where voters who had changed their name (often those of women whose marital status had recently changed) did not appear on poll list even though they claimed to have reregistered. KanVote volunteers also reported people who claimed to have voted at a particular polling place in the past, only to be told that they were not on the list. While no explanation was given for these issues during the primary election, it was explained that during the general election there was an error related to the transfer of voter information from the state voter roll to the election site poll books. This error caused election workers to verify a person’s voting eligibility using registration information that was not the most current.
This may explain why some voters were being told they were at the wrong polling place, or that they simply weren’t on the list, but such an explanation does not explain why voters who had voted at a specific election site in the past were no longer on that site’s voter list. These incidents have raised suspicions that voters may have been caged, a tactic Secretary of State Kris Kobach once boasted about employing.
Voter ID Issues
This election cycle was the first to impose new voter ID requirements, creating additional stumbling blocks for voters and election workers. Election protection volunteers observed voters without ID who left the election site before casting a provisional ballot during both the primary and general elections. Volunteers during the general election also noted two instances of voters who explained that they failed to find their recently misplaced IDs before coming to vote.
Aside from voters lacking valid forms of ID, some voters were reported to have been denied a conventional ballot after being subjected to undue scrutiny due to various misinterpretations of voter ID requirements during the general election. Such incidents indicate an ongoing need to better prepare those who are tasked with imposing the new voting restrictions.
As expected, the number of provisional ballots cast due to voter ID issues in Sedgwick County went up from 27 during the primary elections, to 75 during the general election according to information provided by the Sedgwick County election office.
Election Worker Misinformation and Mishandling of Ballots
Mistakes made by election workers resulted in additional provisional ballots cast. On one occasion, at the Sedgwick County Health Department, a KanVote election protection volunteer watched as election workers stuffed paper ballots in provisional ballot envelopes rather than scan the paper ballot to be counted with other conventional ballots. This means that voters who had their paper ballots stuffed in provisional envelopes will have their votes counted differently than others, if they are counted at all, and they may have to prove eligibility unnecessarily.
Another noteworthy election worker mishap was discovered when a KanVote election protection volunteer was resolving an issue at the Sedgwick County election office and observed a voter requesting to cast her provisional ballot. The voter told the election official that she was instructed by a poll worker to cast her provisional ballot at the election office. This requirement was an unnecessary burden placed on the voter because the poll worker should have accepted the provisional at the election site. It is unclear what election site the voter had visited and how many voters may have been told the wrong information.
Reporting Errors and Transparency Issues
While there was a wide array of mistakes made by election workers throughout the day, the most frustrating mistake was one repeated by the Sedgwick County election office. Candidates and voters in Sedgwick County were burdened by inaccurate and delayed election results, an experience all too familiar from the primary election. Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman informed voters that her office once again failed to properly handle vote counting technology; causing false reports early in the evening and a delay of actual results that lasted past 1:30 am. Deputy Secretary of State Brad Bryant has indicated that this was a repeat of the same problem that occurred in Sedgwick County during the primary election.
While most of the complications during the general election were repeated from the primaries, Kobach’s objection to releasing information regarding provisional votes was something new. With enough provisional ballots cast to throw races in Sedgwick and Shawnee counties, candidates requested that the names of provisional voters be released so that they may assist their supporters in completing the provisional voting process. When Kobach heard of the requests he sent a memo to election commissioners instructing them to reject any requests for the release of names. Going a step further, Kobach filed suit against the release of the information. The Shawnee County information was released while the Sedgwick County was ordered by a judge to be withheld.
Another bizarre issue regarding transparency involved Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman. On election night, Lehman refused to allow observers during the count of paper ballots. Both Lehman and Kobach’s withholding of information were unprecedented violations of longstanding practices to uphold transparency in the election process.