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Sedgwick County Election Official Backs Off Support For Open Polling This Year

LaRissa Lawrie
KMUW/File photo

Kansas lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow Sedgwick County to get around a state-imposed hold on using open polling for the 2020 election cycle.

But Sedgwick County’s election commissioner says that due to the secretary of state’s new requirements, she no longer supports using vote centers this year.

Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman says the secretary of state’s office said this week that it is changing the way county officials access the statewide voter registration database. She says the state wants to isolate the database on a locked-down computer and will use federal funding to buy a computer for each person who needs access.

“We will need to add a minimum of 30 work stations to our office,” Lehman told Sedgwick County commissioners Wednesday. “I’m concerned about space, limited network ports, bandwidth issues with peak election cycles … My biggest concern is our power issues at the building.”

Lehman says the state plans to have the changes in place before the August primary. She says the plan will significantly impact her office, and as a result, she doesn’t want the added risk of introducing open polling this year.

“With the amount of changes that our office is facing, it is safer to just do Election Day voting and do vote centers starting in 2021," Lehman said. "That’s where I am at at the moment."

Lehman reports to the secretary of state not Sedgwick County commissioners.

A law approved last year gives counties the option to let voters cast ballots at any polling location on Election Day instead of being required to use a designated location. That’s how the advance voting period has been handled for years.

Sedgwick County has a successful history of using open polling for early voting and pushed for the Election Day change to make voting more convenient and to cut down on long lines at polling locations.

The secretary of state’s office has told Lehman to hold off on implementing open polling until new regulations are established.

"I absolutely 100% want to do vote centers, I do, and I want to make that very clear," Lehman told commissioners. "But I also 100% want to make sure that this election goes beautifully and flawlessly."

County commissioners Jim Howell and David Dennis are supporting HB2512, which would allow Sedgwick County to use open polling in 2020 even if the secretary of state has not established rules and regulations for the 2020 election cycle.

Howell plans to testify at the Kansas House hearing on the legislation Thursday afternoon.

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.