Kansas House committee explores options for expanding election audits

County clerk organization ‘neutral’ on bill, but call proposal unnecessary

By: - February 13, 2022 9:02 am
Clay Barker, deputy assistant secretary of state in Kansas, urged a House committee to adopt legislation expanding post-election auditing of ballots and initiating audits of election office processes and procedures. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

Clay Barker, deputy assistant secretary of state in Kansas, urged a House committee to adopt legislation expanding post-election auditing of ballots and initiating audits of election office processes and procedures. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

TOPEKA — The Kansas secretary of state’s office and election reform organizations are backing legislation significantly broadening post-election auditing of close political races.

A bill under consideration in the Kansas House would require hand counting of 10% of county precincts whenever a federal, statewide or legislative race was decided by a margin of 1% or less of votes on election night. The proposed reform would be applied in even-numbered election years on top of a 2018 requirement auditing occur in 1% of precincts in each county in randomly selected races for county, state and federal offices.

In addition, House Bill 2570 would require new process-and-procedure audits of four randomly selected counties in odd-numbered years following a federal election.

Clay Barker, deputy assistant secretary of state, said process audits would test voting machine accuracy, review the list of registered voters and in-person early voters, examine reasons for rejecting provisional ballots and look at signature verification materials.

“Although we remain confident in our election procedures and audits, we understand the constant need to improve and enhance our processes,” Barker said.

He said Secretary of State Scott Schwab’s office worked with the Kansas County Clerks and Election Officials Association to make certain reforms in the bill were attainable.

Harvey County Clerk Rick Piepho, chairman of the 109-member clerk and election officials association, said the organization was “neutral” on the bill. He said the association agreed with a desire to build on the “already secure election processes in Kansas” and with the goal of raising voter confidence, but questioned necessary of adding to burdens of time and cost between election day and official canvassing of votes.

“Every county in Kansas has been conducting these post-election audits for a number of years and the result of every audit has been consistent with the original results,” Piepho said. “We do not believe that the provisions currently in this bill would substantially affect election processes, procedures or outcomes.”

Davis Hammet, of the election reform organization Loud Light Civic Action, said deeper scrutiny of election outcomes would help identify issues when small errors influenced results.

He said proposed audits of procedures implemented by election administrators should be tied to clear standards put forward by the secretary of state to prevent the reviews from being weaponized after elections. Guidance to county officials has been “lacking at best” during the past decade, he said.

Stewart Whitson, of the nonprofit advocacy group Opportunity Solutions Project, said election audits had to be mandatory, transparent to the public and performed by a reliable third party trusted by voters. States ought to include traditional procedural audits and risk-limiting audits of voting.

“For voters to have faith in the voting process, it’s critical that states have in place and implement rigorous audits after every election,” Whitson said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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