Lehman out as Sedgwick County Election Commissioner when term expires in July

Published: Jan. 20, 2021 at 8:54 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman will no longer hold her position after her current term concludes this summer, Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab confirmed Wednesday (Jan. 20).

A letter from Lehman earlier Wednesday explained her perspective on events surrounding the Kansas Secretary of State’s decision not to reappoint her after her current term concludes in July. In her fight against an aggressive Lymphoma, including chemotherapy, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lehman said she received medical advice not to go back into the office.

A policy directive from March 2020, brought on a dilemma with her health concerns, Lehman explained. She said the directive restricted remote access, including county-provided VPN (virtual private network) connectivity.

“Over time, I submitted multiple appeals to the secretary of state’s office requestion exception to the policy due to the risk to my health and looming presidential election,” Lehman wrote. “In each case, my appeal was either rejected or went without reply.”

Lehman said she sought counsel from various IT experts on the security of VPN connectivity “and was assured that its utilization was as secure as physically being at (her) desk.”

“Because of my oath to uphold the laws and constitution of both Unites 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 wrote. “That violation of policy is the rationale for not reappointing me.”

Lehman said she stands by her decision “to rely on the security of the Sedgwick County network to fulfill (her) duty.” Lehman said Schwab met with her on Jan. 5 to let her know that he didn’t intend to reappoint her to another term after the current one ends on July 19.

In a response to Lehman Wednesday evening, the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office confirmed that Lehman won’t continue as Sedgwick County’s election commissioner when her current term expires. Seeking to set the record straight, Schwab’s office emphasized the importance of following statewide security protocols when it comes to elections and voter information, indicating that accessing the Kansas voter registration database from home was too much of a risk.

“This was not a hasty decision,” Secretary Schwab said. “W understand the difficult circumstances election officials encountered throughout the fall. Ultimately, we could not jeopardize the safety of Kansas elections systems to the benefit of one.”

The response from Schwab’s office further said “the security of the statewide voter registration system is a top priority of the Secretary of State and is, in no way, under the purview of Sedgwick County IT Officials.”

“There is never a reason to compromise that system. Unfortunately, Mrs. Lehman thought there was,” the secretary of state’s office said.

While issuing a response that sought to “correct the record,” Schwab concluded that response by thanking Lehman for her service. Lehman has served as Sedgwick Couty’s election commissioner for nearly a decade.

On Thursday (Jan. 21) local party leaders responded to the news of Lehman not being reappointed. Both Sedgwick County Democratic Party Chair Joseph Shepard and Sedgwick County Republican lauded Lehman for her work during elections.

“I think she is really passionate about what she does and so it is very hurtful and frustrating to see that we are losing someone who unfortunately was going through life,” Shepard said.

He said the situation “underscores and highlights the inequalities that are within our system.”

“If she reached out and ever got a response, I think we have a bigger problem,” Shepard said. “...We have all seen Tabitha firsthand, still, in the midst of her personal battles and struggles, working hard to ensure that people in Sedgwick County can trust the process.”

Thorne said Lehman has served the community well and the local Republican party is among those disappointed to see her go. Moving forward, he touched on the importance of pushing forward with efforts to make sure elections are “open and transparent.”

“That’s all I hope for in the process of the secretary of State selecting a new leader for elections down here in Sedgwick County,” Thorne said.

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