HAYS — Fourteen days after the Nov. 6 general election, Ellis County Commissioner Barb Wasinger on Tuesday evening officially was declared the winner of the Kansas House of Representatives’ 111th District.
In a 2-to-1 vote of the Ellis County Board of Canvassers, Ellis County Sheriff Ed Harbin was the lone dissenter, declining to certify the election recount.
Giving the recount a thumbs up Tuesday evening at the Ellis County Administrative Center were Ellis County Commissioner Marcy McClelland, who led the canvassing board, and Midwest Energy executive Mike Morley, who was the proxy for Wasinger, the Republican challenger to Democratic incumbent Rep. Eber Phelps.
Harbin was the proxy for County Commissioner Dean Haselhorst, Wasinger’s campaign co-chairman, who recused himself from the recount.
“I kind of like the paper ballots myself, you know,” Harbin said afterward. “We deal with a lot of electronic issues, and so I wish I could say 100 percent that all electronic stuff was good, but unfortunately where we have a lot of people hacking these days — and I can’t say it happened, but I can’t say it otherwise — I was just uncertain.”
Hays attorney John Bird, who Nov. 15 requested the recount on Phelps' behalf, indicated afterward the Democrats aren't done with the election.
Bird had asked the canvassing board Tuesday not to certify the recount results that showed Wasinger won by 35 votes. Last week’s Nov. 15 canvass had her winning by 32 votes.
The final recount tally was 4,341 to 4,306 in favor of Wasinger.
Bird argued the county’s 69 election machines, which are 12 years old, are not certified for use in any other state and were not properly calibrated before the election. He indicated the Democrats will seek expert guidance on what to discern from audit logs of the county’s voting machine activity once he gets requested information from Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus.
“I’m waiting for her to respond to that,” Bird said. “Once I’ve seen that, I’ll know then whether the attorneys that handle election contests recommend that they actually look into the contest issue.”
Calibration is particularly a concern, he said. Maskus has said previously the machines were calibrated, and she reiterated that again Tuesday evening.
Bird noted the machines’ supplier lays out a 20-step process for calibration of each machine before an election to ensure accuracy, a process he said Harbin undoubtedly understands.
“He’s a law enforcement officer. I think he of all of them understands this issue of machines not working properly,” Bird said. “Every time he sends an officer out in the field to write traffic tickets, he requires them to calibrate their machine before they start and after they issue the tickets. He knows just like anybody else in law enforcement that a machine makes mistakes. We’re not saying these machines are making mistakes because somebody operated them wrong, or whether there’s an inherent problem with them. We don’t know.”
Phelps, who is out of the country with a seriously ill relative in England, could consider legal action.
“Obviously, that’s an option,” Bird said.
He disputed the validity of the recount partly on the basis of there being no printout of the electronic ballots, which he said are required when a candidate asks for a hand recount. Instead, the recount was based on data reports from each machine, by ward and precinct.
The recount started early Tuesday and continued through the afternoon in a race to beat the clock and a 4:30 p.m. deadline. State law required the recount be done by 5 p.m.
In one room, teams of counters worked through piles of paper ballots while in the other, a former bank vault, teams drew the tallies from ballot reports on electronic ballots, highlighting votes for Wasinger in pink and votes for Phelps in green.
Both areas were quiet, with the only constant in the vault being the sounds of shuffling papers, whirring adding machines, clicking keyboards, a humming printer, and the squeak of highlighters on paper. Besides Bird and Wasinger, the handful of observers included Democratic Party Chair Henry Schwaller IV, Republican Party Chair Dustin Roths, attorney Jonathan Ehrlich, Oskaloosa, representing the Kansas House Republican Campaign Committee, and Hays real estate icon Errol Wuertz.
Bird said early in the day he suspected an accuracy problem based on election results from paper ballots cast. He based that on the fact that Phelps, with paper ballots in advance voting and during the election, was winning with 55 percent of the votes, with a 175-vote lead. But in machine voting in advance and on election day, Phelps captured only 48 percent of the vote.
“A candidate doesn’t just drop like that,” he said, adding, “55 percent when it’s done in a way we can actually measure it, and 48 when all we get is data spit out on paper, with no ballots to look at? I wouldn’t want to base my freedom on that kind of a result.”
Bird cited a 2007 Everest Voting Study from Ohio and Pennsylvania. That report concluded iVotronic voting machines, like those used in Ellis County, are insecure and can be hacked 100 different ways, “including 19 ways by the voter in the booth,” he said.
Bird doesn’t hold Maskus at fault for the voting machines.
“I don’t think anyone stole the election. I think they lost control by not having the proper equipment,” he said. “I think Donna has been saddled with outdated, outmoded equipment. And despite Donna asking, the county commissioners have failed and neglected to go to a voting system that is secure.”
Bird called on the county to use paper ballots, which he said can be counted efficiently in Ellis County, rather than voting machines that he said are an urban trend where there is a larger volume of votes.
Wasinger said she was honored to be elected to represent the 111th District.
“I am also proud that my campaign was based on the issues and stayed positive as I had promised I would do throughout my campaign," she said. "There is simply no need at this level of local politics to use negative attacks and personal character assassination as normal campaign tactics.”
She said her first step as a legislator will be orientation for new state representatives in December.