Statisticians examining results of the 2012 Republican primary election in Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, Louisiana, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Kentucky noticed a peculiar phenomenon. In race after race, once the vote tally exceeded 500, establishment candidates appeared to get a disproportionate number of votes than did tea party candidates.

The same statistical oddity appeared in the general election. In the more heavily populated areas, once there were more than 500 votes counted in a precinct the GOP candidate seemed to be favored overwhelmingly compared to the Democratic candidate.

Beth Clarkson, a mathematician and chief statistician for Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research, thought her fellow number-crunchers’ results incredulous. That is, until she discovered the same statistical oddity by examining the same elections. Clarkson saw the trend in election results the others had not inspected.

And she saw the same when examining the 2012 and 2014 statewide elections in Kansas. The larger the precinct, the more people appeared to vote for either the establishment Republican in primaries or the only Republican in the general election.

“This is not just an anomaly that occurred in one place,” Clarkson said in a Tribune News Service interview. “It is a pattern that has occurred repeatedly in elections across the United States.”

Clarkson wants to know why. She believes it either is a new demographic trend that has yet to be identified by extensive polling that takes place regularly, or it is fraud of some kind.

“I do not know why this trend is there,” she said, “but I know that the pattern is there and one way to establish that it is or is not election fraud is to go and do a physical audit of paper records of voting machines.”

One would think in Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s Kansas where even one instance of an illegal immigrant casting a ballot is one too many, the possibility of rampant voter fraud would be something he would want to fight.

Instead, Kobach is fighting Clarkson. Instead of allowing the statistician access to the paper records that exist of the Direct Recording Electronic voting machines, Clarkson has had to sue the state, Kobach and the Sedgwick County election commissioner. Twice.

She has yet to see the paper trail.

That one exists in Wichita is astounding. After the infamous hanging chads recount of the 2000 presidential election and the Help America Vote Act of 2002, Kansas joined the rest of the nation in the transition to electronic machines. In many areas, the lower cost of not having paper records made was irresistible.

One big problem, however. Once the votes are cast, there is no way to conduct an audit or perform a recount. Voting machine software is proprietary to the companies that manufacture them, and they’re reluctant to share.

“There is a cost for not knowing the results are right in each election,” said Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting Foundation, a nonprofit agency attempting to safeguard elections in the digital age. “In our view, it becomes kind of corrosive of voter confidence because over time you can never be sure.”

Kansas voters should be sure. Secretary Kobach is doing nothing to assure the public everything is on the up and up other than chasing down phantom alien voters. Clarkson isn’t suggesting the secretary or anybody else was elected by fraudulent means, although state officials should remove any doubts many others have.

There is a legitimate question on the table. How Kobach responds speaks volumes on his own legitimacy as a public servant.

plowry@dailynews.net

Editorial by Patrick Lowry