On Tuesday Kansas witnessed a glimpse of Kobach’s clamp-down on democracy. KanVote election protection volunteers were at election sites in low-income Wichita neighborhoods to observe how the new voter restrictions were being implemented. Kobach’s new voting restrictions, complicated election technology, and redistricting shenanigans coupled with the incompetence of his appointed Sedgwick County election commissioner, Tabitha Lehman, set the stage for mass confusion and disenfranchised many.
Before the primary election day even came, complications began to surface. Voters contacted KanVote, fretful that their applied for mail-in ballots had not been received. Other complications involved in-person advanced voting, including a computer glitch that left advance voters with the wrong ballot. These complications left some weary of the integrity of the approaching primary election.
They were right to be weary. There was a wide array of problems during the primary election. Many voters were turned away due to changes in polling locations. Some complained that they were not registered to the party that they were affiliated with, and others complained that they could not vote for their favored candidate due to redistricting. Many voters arrived only to find out that they were no longer on the voter rolls, an interesting phenomenon when you consider that our current Secretary of State once bragged of having successfully caged Kansas voters.
The technology employed during the election proved to be problematic as well. Computer glitches similar to those that burdened Wichita’s February 28th referendum vote were common occurrences throughout the day. The most startling technological glitches involved voting machine errors which casted votes for candidates that were not selected by the voter.
The new voter ID restrictions created additional obstacles. At each election site where KanVote volunteers were present, voters were seen leaving before voting due to lack of photo ID. Some said they would return with their ID but none did. Some who lacked ID casted provisional ballots. Lehman put the number of provisional ballots issued due to lack of photo ID at 27 in Sedgwick County, but by the night’s end it was clear that Lehman’s reporting was faulty at best. To wrap up the day, Lehman’s office released false election outcomes to voters and candidates in Sedgwick Co., finally releasing the “actual” outcome of the elections after 11:00pm.
While this election was botched to say the least, KanVote salutes the election site workers and judges who took the challenge of trying to assist voters in navigating through the mess that Kobach created. Other than a few instances when our volunteers had to remind them to offer a provisional ballot to voters who were denied a conventional vote, election workers did a great job. Many of them spoke candidly of their disagreement with Kobach and his new restrictions. One election judge even shared that during the training held at the Sedgwick Co. Election office, a rumor was spread that KanVote partner Sunflower Community Action was going to attempt to present fraudulent identification in an attempt to embarrass election workers. When a KanVote representative confronted Lehman in person about the slander promoted by her office she eventually admitted that the statement was unprofessional and would not happen again, rolling her eyes as she did while apologizing for her office’s reporting errors.
The complications created by Kobach’s restrictive version of democracy amounted to thousands of provisional ballots issued throughout the state. Lehman’s office has not released the exact amount of provisional ballots that were issued in Sedgwick County, but a county employee told KanVote that the figure well exceeded 600. Shawnee County, which issued 592 provisional ballots, as well as other smaller districts, may have the outcome of their races swayed when and if their provisional ballots are counted.
This level of confusion is to be expected when any system as massive as our electoral system is overhauled. But why did we overhaul the system? Was it to prevent voter fraud? No, voter fraud does not exist in Kansas. Says who? Says Barry Grissom, US Federal Attorney in Kansas City. He knows because he would be responsible for investigating and prosecuting Kansas voter fraud if it actually existed.
While the advertised intent of this bill was voter security, the actual intent is best articulated by the late founder of its national corporate sponsor, Paul Weyrich of the American Legislative Exchange Council.
“They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” - Paul Weyrich
ALEC member legislators in Kansas and throughout the country were lead in ensuring widespread implementation of the new voter restrictions. Consider this along with the outcome of a ruthless campaign , sponsored in part by Kobach’s Prairie Fire PAC, against anyone who questioned Brownback’s tax plan (also ALEC model legislation) and it’s easy to see why Kobach considers Tuesday’s election a success.
To find out more about KanVote’s work and to get involved call 316-204-4315.