Local, state election officials looking to iron out issues ahead of general election in Kansas

An unprecedented turnout for the Aug. 2 primary led to long lines and issues with a shortage of election workers
Published: Aug. 4, 2022 at 10:45 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Results are still being finalized for Tuesday’s election where about 47 percent of the electorate participated, but there are lessons to be learned.

Some voters in Sedgwick County encountered long lines and long waits.

With another election in three months, there are questions about what Sedgwick County is going to do to make things run better.

“Long lines is a huge issue, especially when you have lines that go outside the building. You’ll have voters drive up, and they actually choose not to go vote,” said Davis Hammet, President of Loud Light.

When voters wait in line to cast their ballot, Davis Hammet with Loud Light said it has a lasting impact.

Hammet said, “A lot of research has been done into this and on average, about every hour of wait time will reduce the likelihood of people voting by one percent forever.”

The lasting impact of the 2020 election, Hammet said that is making for a challenging time for election workers now.

“It’s a really difficult environment right now for election workers, for election administrators. I mean, they’re getting threats, sometimes death threats,” Hammet said.

But Hammet also said Tuesday showed there was room for improvement.

Hammet said, “We saw a lot of issues in Sedgwick County this election cycle. But first off, I want to say a lot of the blame should be on the Kansas legislature, putting a big issue, an amendment, on the August ballot. This was a predictable disaster. Our elections are not designed to have this kind of election in August.”

Hammet said the first thing to understand is election administration is a tough process. In Kansas, that is largely managed at the county level, and it’s there where election offices get their funding.

“State really doesn’t run elections; it doesn’t fund elections, so it’s up to the local governments to fund those elections, and that’s a huge burden. You know local governments are trying to fix roads, and elections are very expensive to run, so sometimes you want to blame an election official, but it might be they asked the county for money and the county didn’t give them enough money to hire poll workers,” said Hammet.

This was also the first major election for Sedgwick County’s new election administrator after Secretary of State Scott Schwab removed her predecessor.

“Put in someone who, I think, is doing good under the circumstance, but this isn’t really a job you can learn on the fly,” said Hammet. “They put on someone who didn’t really have election administration experience, and we kind of see the consequences of that.”

After election day, Sedgwick County Election Commission Angela Caudillo said they will review all that happened.

“Every election, there’s something to learn, and I think we’ve learned something this election. We’ll be debriefing and looking at all of the things that went right and all of the things they went wrong,” said Caudillo.

With the general election in three months, Caudillo said they are going to hire more election workers.

The Kansas Secretary of State’s office said one of their focuses will be for Kansas counties to have a larger backup pool of election workers for November’s vote.

“They accept that problems happened, and they’re working on trying to prepare for the next election and prevent these things,” said Hammet. “They’re talking about why did these long lines happen? How do we make sure there’s enough machines, ballots, poll workers?”

As part of the Sedgwick County 2023 budget process, the county is considering increasing the pay of election workers.

For most poll workers, the pay is $7.50 an hour.

If that increase is approved, that wouldn’t go into effect for the November election.

Hammet said, “Don’t want to be too critical here because election workers are overworked and underpaid. It’s an incredibly stressful job, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

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