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Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Out After Current Term Ends

Sedgwick County/YouTube
Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman presents a 2020 election report to county commissioners on Dec. 16. She and the Kansas Secretary of State's office announced she will not be retained after her term ends in July.

Tabitha Lehman, Sedgwick County’s election commissioner since 2011, will not be retained when her term expires in July.

Lehman and Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab both posted statements on Twitter on Wednesday night that said Lehman would be replaced.

Schwab oversees the state's elections. He also appoints the election commissioner in the state’s four largest counties: Sedgwick, Johnson, Wyandotte and Shawnee.

Schwab said in his statement that Lehman accessed the statewide voter registration database from her home, a violation of security protocols.

"The Secretary of State places the highest priority on maintaining safety and security of Kansas elections," Schwab said. "The security of our elections systems and the personal information of Kansans will not be put at risk, regardless of the circumstances."

Those circumstances include Lehman being forced to work from home during the pandemic as she undergoes treatment for cancer. She said in her statement that her doctors told her not to go to the office because of the risk of catching COVID-19.

Lehman said she asked Schwab’s office several times for an exception to the policy that restricted remote access to the voter database, but was denied or ignored. She maintains that computer experts told her that signing into the database from home using her regular county network would have the same security safeguards as signing in from her office.

"Because of my oath to uphold the laws and constitution of both the United States and the State of Kansas, I knowingly chose to violate the policy of the Secretary of State in order to direct a fair and accurate Presidential election," Lehman said in her statement.

Lehman said that’s why Schwab told her earlier this month she would not be retained.

The county in a statement released Thursday afternoon praised Lehman as "a strong advocate for the voters and candidates seeking elected offices" and said she "provided transparent elections" in her nine years in the role.

But ultimately the county called the situation a "personnel matter with Secretary of State Scott Schwab and Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman."

Sedgwick County Commissioner Sarah Lopez said in a statement on Facebook on Thursday that she disagrees with Schwab’s decision not to reappoint Lehman.

"Mrs. Lehman has shown her dedication to the voters of Sedgwick County by running a safe, fair and transparent election in the face of so many obstacles," Lopez said in her statement. "At a time when the divide between political parties is so vast, having someone trusted by all political affiliations running our elections is crucial."

She said the commission will hold a special meeting next week to discuss Lehman’s departure and a current bill in the Kansas Senate that would allow the state's largest counties to appoint their own election commissioner.

Despite a record turnout for the November 2020 election, Sedgwick County reported no issues in counting and tabulating results that evening. The turnout also included a record number of mail-in and advance ballots.

“We understand the difficult circumstances election officials encountered throughout the fall," Schwab said in his statement. "Ultimately, we could not jeopardize the safety of Kansas elections systems to the benefit of one."

Lehman has worked in the election office since 2009. She was appointed commissioner by former Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Schwab’s predecessor, in 2011.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is a board member of the Public Media Journalists Association, a board member of the Kansas chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.