Kansas SOS should value transparency

One of the topics in the Dashboard is “Topic 3: Official Election Turnout,” where we provide the count of registered voters, total votes, advanced votes and provisional ballots for every election since 1992.

You might have noticed we’ve not yet added in the 2020 election. Why not? Because despite repeated requests, we cannot get access to the count of provisional votes due to the actions of Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, who is falling into a disturbing pattern of resisting calls for transparency and open access to data.

The latest instance of Schwab’s obfuscation came following the loss of a lawsuit requesting data on provisional ballots. Last year a district judge ordered that Schwab turn over the information, which was requested by voting rights advocate Davis Hammett. Hammett intended to use the information to educate voters on why their ballots weren’t being counted.

Provisional ballots are cast where there is some question regarding a voter’s eligibility, such as verification of address, whether they are voting in the right precinct, or questions regarding signature match. These are issues easily corrected by the voter, if they are aware of what those issues might be.

One would think that such an endeavor would receive the full support of Schwab, in his capacity of the state’s top election official. After all, educating voters on the proper procedure for casting a ballot is presumably a major objective of his office. But as it turns out, Schwab seems to actively oppose openness and transparency.

Schwab’s response to losing the lawsuit was to order software engineers to remove the database function that allows the secretary of state’s office to produce the records. Now, they are denying the request on the grounds that the records no longer exist.

Now, Schwab and the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office is back in court, wasting more of the taxpayer’s money, as they fight to prevent the release of public records they should be happy to share. And this is an issue that goes beyond the release of provisional voting data — if a government office can hide public records by simply flipping a switch, it will only erode public trust.

If voters are being disenfranchised through the discarding of their provisional ballots, they deserve to know why, and what corrective action to take to make sure it does not happen again. Open, fair, and transparent elections must not be a partisan issue. We call upon Secretary of State Schwab to build public trust by expanding public access to information and immediately cease his attempts at obfuscation.