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Authorities to investigate county's election woes

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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 said the problem was that their reports were showing all precincts had reported, when in fact they had not. She said local elections officials will be go through the database with the secretary of state's office and the vendor to see "what it is we are not doing right, and get that corrected."

She acknowledged the problem was more about how local election officials were using the software, rather than a problem with the software itself.

"This meeting with the secretary of state's office and the vendor is going to be beneficial for us — we are looking forward to that," Lehman said. "We feel that will be a great step in making sure we get this addressed."

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.

Elections officials had initially thought they had identified the problem in the primary election, Lehman said.

"We thought we had it fixed, and we didn't," Lehman said. "So now we are going to go a lot deeper and make sure. We are going to create some test elections and go through extensive testing before we go through the next election cycle."

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.

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