Capitol Update: In Kansas, ‘a voter cannot verify their vote was counted as it was cast’

Rep. Jarrod Ousley.
Rep. Jarrod Ousley.

The 2016 legislative session is under way in Topeka, and throughout the session we’ll be bringing you a weekly update from one of northeast Johnson County’s elected officials — Rep. Barbara Bollier, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley, Rep. Melissa Rooker and Sen. Kay Wolf — about what they’re working on in Topeka.

On Friday Rep. Ousley provided a recap of last week’s proceedings in the Education Committee. Here’s the second part of his Capitol Update filing:

Last spring, the League of Women Voters held a forum featuring Dr. Beth Clarkson, an ASQ-Certified Quality Engineer, with a PhD in Statistics.  Knowing of her lawsuit to obtain paper records of the vote in Wichita to audit the 2014 election, I was curious to learn about the election audit process in Kansas, and to see if the legislature could assist her.

I was concerned after her presentation that the audit process in Kansas is neither reliable nor effective.  Kansas uses Electronic Voting Machines, without a vote receipt.  This means a voter cannot verify their vote was counted as it was cast.  As with other electronic devices, it is possible for voting machines, or the data they record (our votes), to contain errors due to software malfunctions, programming errors, or potentially, intentional alterations.  A voter verifiable paper record of a ballot, and post-election audits of such records, are critical tools for detecting errors, improving reliability, and discouraging fraud.

Dr. Clarkson met with me last fall and explained key steps to ensuring accurate elections.  She highlighted that:  (1) machines must be tested prior to an election, to determine they operate properly; (2) open source software, that is software that is not proprietary to the private company selling the machine; (3) provision of a paper receipt; and (4) election audits must be random.   States with statutory provisions requiring these safeguards generally have election results more closely aligned with polls conducted prior to the election.  

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With Dr. Clarkson’s help and legislative researchers and revisers, I began work on an Election Audit Act containing the critical safeguards recommended by Dr. Clarkson and other experts.  This draft would become HB 2659, a four page bill I introduced in committee Vision 2020, after which it moved to the Elections Committee.

Ousley-rep-clarkson-kobachIn October, KU hosted a symposium where Secretary of State Kris Kobach voiced his support for effective and robust auditing practices, and this session Secretary Kobach also introduced a one page bill expanding Kansas audits.  However, his bill did not have the critical safeguards.  The Secretary’s bill was placed on the Elections Committee agenda, and Dr. Clarkson prepared testimony in support of auditing requirements, stressing the need for the additional provisions.  I had amendments drafted to expand the Secretary’s bill, and during the committee hearing, Secretary Kobach, Dr. Clarkson and I, as well as election officials from multiple counties (including Sedgwick, Johnson, and Wyandotte) all testified regarding the election audit process in Kansas.  

Election officials expressed concerns about implementing expanded audits as soon as the 2016 election, but also testified that if it was the will of the legislature, it could be done.  Other concerns regarding the price tags for new machines were alleviated when it was explained that election machines in Kansas are already due to be replaced, and the amendments simply state when new machines are purchased, they must provide a voter verifiable receipt.  

As we worked the bill, I offered amendments that (1) specify the voting machines must provide voters a record; (2) contain open source software; and (3) require that audits are random.  Representative Sawyer offered an amendment allowing Sedgwick County to pilot the new auditing requirements in 2016, as the Secretary’s audit expansions take effect in 2017.   The amendments, with the exception of the open source software requirement, passed.  The Secretary’s amended bill, now House Substitute for HB 2543, passed out of committee.  It is my understanding that the Secretary of State still supports the bill with the amendments, and the Speaker of the House may allow the bill to “come above the line” for a vote in the House on Tuesday, Feb. 23.  If you would like to encourage Speaker Merrick to allow a vote, you may email him at ray.merrick@house.ks.gov.   Simply make the subject line of your email, “Allow House Substitute for HB 2543 a Vote.”  If possible, cc me on the email at jarrod.ousley@house.ks.gov.

Regardless of party affiliation, I believe it is vital to the health of our democracy for citizens to trust in our voting system, especially when the appearance of partisan bias might lead to a lack of confidence in the neutrality of election officials.  We build trust by providing accurate, effective, and transparent audits.  

I give thanks and credit to Dr. Clarkson and her extensive efforts.  Her desire to ensure effective audits and her dedication to our state are a testament to her character.  We are lucky to have her in Kansas.  I also thank the LWV for providing forums on issues that matter to Kansans, and their efforts to register voters, get out the vote, and to advocate for secure elections.  

Thank you for the opportunity to serve the 24th District.  I can be reached at jarrod.ousley@house.ks.gov and www.facebook.com./JarrodOusleyforthe24th.  If you would like to receive my weekly newsletter please visit my website at www.jarrodousley.com/newsletters and submit an email address.