Recently, a Wichita State University employee filed a lawsuit demanding I, or Sedgwick County, turn over ballots and voting machine records from the 2014 elections in Sedgwick County. Why? To test her hypothetical theory that voting machines across the country are not reporting vote totals correctly. She seeks to use Sedgwick County voters’ ballots to do her research.
Recently, Patrick Lowry wrote an editorial in which he declared I should provide all of the information she demands. Lowry even suggested my “legitimacy as a public servant” would be doubtful if I didn’t turn over the ballots. However, Lowry didn’t tell the whole story.
There’s an important reason why neither I, nor Sedgwick County officials, can hand over any ballots to the WSU employee — because it’s a crime to do so. Under K.S.A. 25-2422, it’s a felony to “disclos(e) or expos(e) the contents of any ballot” after the election contest period has ended, even if the names of voters are redacted. Another Kansas law, K.S.A. 25-3107(a), specifically prohibits county election officials from unsealing the containers in which ballots are kept after an election. Only under a judicial order, when the outcome of a specific race has been contested, can those containers be unsealed.
And there’s something else Lowry failed to mention. When the same WSU employee filed a nearly identical lawsuit a few years ago, seeking records from the 2010 elections, the district court judge ruled against her. The judge held that “disclosure of the records requested is not authorized under K.S.A. 25-2422.” The judge also pointed out if the ballots were disclosed, it might be possible to determine the votes of specific voters, even if the names were redacted. The potential loss of ballot privacy could make many people wary of voting.
In short, this issue has already been litigated. I’m all for more research on voting machines, but the law is the law. And currently Kansas law places a premium on the privacy of ballots. If Lowry wants Kansans’ ballots to be used to test various theories about voting machines, then Lowry must first convince legislators to change the law.
And there’s one more thing Lowry failed to mention. Kansas voting machines are already put through multiple layers of testing. Every voting system has been federally certified by the Election Assistance Commission, which uses three different independent testing laboratories to vigorously test machines. Once that’s done, the machines are reviewed again at the state level. Then, before every election, every county conducts a public test to ensure the equipment tabulates results 100 percent correctly.
That said, I know machines can still malfunction on election day. That’s why I introduced a significant reform in 2011. I took steps to ensure every county in Kansas switches to voting equipment that produces a paper trail. That way, we can always verify whether the electronic equipment worked correctly; and a hand-recount of paper ballots will always be possible. That reform is one of the most important steps I have taken as secretary of state.
By omitting these facts, Lowry painted a grossly misleading picture. Hays Daily News readers deserve better.
Kris Kobach is Kansas Secretary of State
Kris Kobach is Kansas Secretary of State.