State statute requires the Secretary of State to certify equipment before it is purchased by counties and to keep such certification on file. But the office could provide only two letters of equipment certification issued in the last five years.
(TNS) — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's office failed to produce records this summer showing it had certified the voting equipment used by hundreds of thousands of Kansans.
State statute requires the Secretary of State to certify equipment before it is purchased by counties and to keep such certification on file. But the office, responding to a Kansas Open Records Act request in June, could provide only two letters of equipment certification that Kobach issued in the last five years.
Yet some counties — including Reno and Finney, as well as Sedgwick, Wyandotte, and Shawnee — have purchased systems since October 2013 that were not the systems mentioned in the two certification letters in Topeka. Why were they omitted?
"Quite frankly, just shooting from the hip, I don't know," said State Director of Elections Bryan Caskey in the Secretary of State's office. The request came as efforts were under way to update records, Caskey said, and he gave "everything I had at my fingertips."
"I'm acknowledging," he said, "I don't know the answer, shooting from my hip."
"Yes, it's on the list of things to do. No, I haven't finished it yet," Caskey said of updating certification records. "Every piece of voting equipment used in the state has been certified to the state and national level," he repeatedly emphasized.
Counties individually choose their election machines, and the list of what system a county is using was last revised on the Secretary of State's website in October 2007. A survey is gathering current data from county clerks. The new list, however, may not be available until after the election.
Duane Schrag, a former reporter at The Hutchinson News and a retired editor living in Abilene, filed a Kansas Open Records Act request June 15 with the Secretary of State for copies of election equipment certification documents issued since Oct. 5, 2013.
Counties have purchased voting systems in recent years to replace aging machines. The response to Schrag were two letters: An August 2017 letter signed by Kobach certifying Election Systems & Software's EVS 126.96.36.199, and a similar January 2018 letter certifying Unisyn OpenElect Voting System 2.0. "At this time, there are no other other public records in existence beyond what has already been provided to you," the office's senior counsel Sue Becker wrote Schrag.
Schrag knew Saline County had purchased a new system and it wasn't either of those systems. Schrag sent questions to Saline County Clerk Jamie Allen and in short order, the Secretary of State's office was contacted and it verified Saline County's EVS 188.8.131.52 indeed was certified in April 2017.
However, this certification sent to Schrag appeared in a Microsoft Word document with no Secretary of State's letterhead. The Word document was created July 27, 2018, when the Secretary of State's office was responding to the inquiries about Saline County's equipment. It is possible, Caskey told The News, that he created that certification letter in a new version of Word from an old document. He also said he wasn't sure he had the original document when he sent that new Word document dated in 2017.
Sedgwick County's Chief Deputy Election Commissioner Sandra Gritz informed Schrag the certification it received from the Secretary of State for its equipment was "verbal."
Finney County Clerk/Election Officer Dori Munyan, less than a year in her post, referred questions about its equipment certification document from the Secretary of State to that office. Wichita County, which also uses equipment not mentioned in the two certification records, also referred The News to Topeka for certification records about its equipment.
Jenna Fager, deputy election officer in the Reno County Clerk's office, supplied The News with a copy of the Kobach-signed certification dated 2017 for the equipment Reno County bought that year. Fager was aware certification was a prerequisite to a purchase and she obtained the state's certification letter from the vendor, ElectionSource.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission contracts third-party independent testing authorities to test election equipment. Components are tested, and if a machine or software is modified, it must be tested and certified again. Kansas relies on the EAC-contracted testing and does not authorize its own testing. The EAC issues its certification first. "We never get in front of the EAC. The EAC certifies first," Caskey said.
Brian McClendon, a Lawrence Democrat running for Secretary of State, questions the EAC-contracted testing that occurred before Johnson County used its new machines in the August primary election. The rest of the state waited for Johnson County's delayed results, blamed on problems uploading to software. Modifications in Johnson County software ahead of the general election have required new testing and certification. The EAC and state certifications have been secured, Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker told the press last week.
McClendon said his approach to testing the equipment in Johnson County would have been to hire 200 people to test the equipment by "voting" for 12 hours, to simulate a voting site with 200 machines in continual use on election day. The simulation would continue by collecting the data on a memory stick.
Rob Hodgkinson, a Libertarian from Stilwell also running for Secretary of State, said the EAC "has some of its own credibility issues." Former Johnson County Election Commissioner Brian Newby, now at the helm of the EAC, stirred a controversy athe EAC when he OK'd proof-of-citizenship for some voter registration forms.
As for testing procedures, Hodgkinson said it "looks like there's an awful lot of rubber stamping" instead of testing. Caskey, though, said counties carry out considerable testing of voting machines.
Overall, Hodgkinson thinks "there's too much secrecy around elections in Kansas." The election audit legislation that emerged from the Statehouse is "very, very weak," he said, and the 2018 election will not be audited.
McClendon doesn't fault Caskey or other staff in the Secretary of State's office. They are very good, but they are being politically restricted, McClendon said. "I would unleash them to do their jobs well," he said.
The News reached a spokesperson for Kobach, but there was no response from the Secretary, the Republican candidate for governor.
Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican running for Secretary of State, also did not respond.
©2018 The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kan.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.