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Authorities to investigate Sedgwick County election woes

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- The Kansas Secretary of State's office said Wednesday it plans to investigate problems at the Sedgwick County elections office that once again delayed final vote counts for hours after polls closed.

Kansas election director Brad Bryant told The Associated Press that state officials plan to meet early next week with Sedgwick County personnel and the vendor of the software that the county uses to tally results. Final results from Sedgwick County, which includes the city of Wichita, were unavailable until nearly 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

"I don't believe it is any kind of systemic software problem because if it was it would occur in many jurisdictions, including outside of Kansas, because this equipment is manufactured by a major election company, a vendor that is operating in many states in the United States," Bryant said. "So I don't really think it is a problem in the software, I think it was more of a human error -- but we don't know for sure."

Secretary of State Kris Kobach does not know enough about the situation yet to make a statement, Bryant said, and first wants to know how inaccurate information about the number of precincts reporting Sedgwick County was posted on the county's website.

Sedgwick County Elections Commissioner Tabitha Lehman did not return messages left Wednesday at the elections office. Kobach appointed Lehman to the position about a year ago.

"He wouldn't have appointed her if he didn't think she was competent," Bryant said. "I don't think he has changed his opinion on that, so he is not calling for heads to roll or anything. There was an error made, he wants to investigate it, figure out what caused it, see if it can be corrected."

The same problem surfaced in Sedgwick County during the August primary election.

"It looks like the same problem, so it didn't get corrected between the primary and general -- and that is one of our concerns," Bryant said, adding that the county may want to consider having someone on staff who is trained adequately to troubleshoot the software.

Kaylen Seymour, a Democratic Party watcher who oversaw the Sedgwick County elections for irregularities, said the county needs an overhaul of its training process and more stress-testing to make sure the problem doesn't happen again in the future.

She said Lehman had a hard job to do on election night.

"I wouldn't say she was incompetent -- just overwhelmed by the massive amounts of ballots coming in," Seymour said.

Seymour also suggested Sedgwick County open up more polling locations, noting the county had only 69 polling places for an electorate of more than 250,000 people. Many Sedgwick County voters waited in line for an hour.