BELLE PLAINE (AP) – A judge examines whether the Kansas Republican Secretary of State broke the state’s Open Records Act by ordering the removal of an election database function that generates a report to the statewide showing which provisional ballots weren’t counted – a civil ruling rights advocates say this will have far-reaching implications for government transparency.
Shawnee County District Judge Teresa Watson heard arguments last week in a lawsuit brought by voting rights activist Davis Hammet, chairman of Loud Light, a nonprofit that s ‘strives to increase voter turnout. The group helps voters resolve the issues that caused them to vote provisionally so that their votes are counted.
Voters receive provisional ballots if they do not appear to be registered, fail to present the required identification, or attempt to vote at the wrong polling station.
“We know there are loopholes … when they don’t count the votes they should be counting and I think at some level there may be resistance from the secretary of state. to provide this data because it means we can highlight these gaps, ”Hammet said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “We can prove that there are votes which should have been counted and which are not being counted.”
This information can raise public awareness of electoral system issues, leading to changes in state law. He noted that the political outcry over the hundreds of rejected mail-in ballots statewide in the 2018 primary led to legislation a year later that requires election officials to notify voters before their ballots are received. mail-in votes are rejected due to signature issues.
Hammet last year won a lawsuit against Secretary of State Scott Schwab that required him to hand over the names of voters who provisionally voted in the 2018 general election, including whether their votes were counted.
Schwab complied with the court order regarding the 2018 data, then asked the outside company that maintains the database to end the Secretary of State’s access to the detailed report of the provisional ballot in the statewide. The state’s 105 counties can still run these reports, but only for their own local data.
When Hammet attempted to obtain the same information for the 2020 primary elections, the Secretary of State’s office informed him that it no longer had the capacity to provide the statewide report. Documents filed by the court show it was told that the tech company that runs the database could manually extract the data for $ 522, but couldn’t guarantee it would get it in time for the general election.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas again sued Schwab on Hammet’s behalf.
“The Kansas Open Records Act exists for a reason: to provide members of the public with some transparency and accountability from government agencies,” said Sharon Brett, chief legal officer of the Kansas ACLU, in a written statement. “What Secretary Schwab did here was first to deny this right of access, and then when he lost this battle he took affirmative steps to make access extremely difficult. Schwab defeat the very purpose of having an open case law in the first place. “
Schwab’s office declined to comment on the ongoing litigation on Wednesday. But in court documents, his lawyers say the detailed report on the provisional ballot serves “no functional purpose” for the secretary of state’s office, and that no law requires his office to maintain it or collect information on them. provisional individual ballots.
They also argue that Schwab has “no obligation to maintain this database function in perpetuity” and noted that his office had offered to contact the database vendor so they could write a script to manually extract the information Hammet was looking for if he paid the cost. They also noted that Hammet could get the data he wanted from county election officials.
“Government is meant to be by the people, for the people,” Brett said. “A ruling against our client in this case would mean that the Kansas government is for the people, but only when the government feels like it and has nothing to hide.”