Law enforcement had to be called to the Johnson County Election Office the last time workers gathered to count ballots, due to an election worker who breached the office’s security and then refused to leave when asked.
The backstory: That was in August and the worker left peacefully, said Election Commissioner Fred Sherman, who made the call. But even as pressure on election offices across the country are intensifying, Sherman said he believes the office’s physical and vote-handling security already in place will be equal to the upcoming challenges.
- A worker had breached the office’s security – Sherman declined to say specifically how – and had been asked politely to leave, but was refusing, Sherman said.
- “It did not escalate to a level that we had to physically remove the individual but it did get to the level of at least having to notify law enforcement that someone needed to be escorted off the property,” Sherman said. “Fortunately, the individual did leave on their own.”
Zooming out: Now that the general election is almost here, the pressure on people who will be counting ballots the night of Nov. 8 has, if anything, increased. Political parties and activists, which have had a role in poll worker recruitment in the past, have been especially active this year.
- Reports also have surfaced of intimidation by people in masks at drop boxes in Arizona, and in one Wisconsin county, officials have talked about “hardening” election offices against physical threats.
- But so far at least, Johnson County has avoided threats or intimidation to voters or election workers. None had been reported here as of Wednesday, said county spokesperson Kelli Taylor. And a spot check by the Post of a few drop box sites Wednesday also showed everything quiet.
- This follows after the county manager’s office earlier this week said officials discovered over the weekend that 1,319 election workers will have to be notified that their data may have been compromised.
The upshot: Sherman expects no changes to how the election office does its business due to any perceived threats. The pressure has always been here, he said, and his office will continue to focus on the fail safes and redundancies already in place to ensure there are no shenanigans.
Key quote: “These concerns have always existed,” Sherman said. “Now clearly, it’s more in the limelight given just the kind of the political reporting and political exposure on elections.”
How the county will protect integrity of its election system: The election office relies on over 3,000 volunteers, and it is impossible to do detailed interviews with them all, Sherman said. The main requirement is that they are registered to vote in the county. That means their party affiliation is on record, making it possible to get non-partisan or bi-partisan pairs to work together.
- “We just have to be very mindful of those types of people that may not have the best intentions,” Sherman said. “And that’s not to say I don’t want to use them. We just have to ensure that we have all the safeguards in place so that we can protect the integrity of the election system.”
- That integrity depends on a rigid set of rules about who can go where in the restricted space of the election office warehouse and how that work itself is done, he said.
- For instance, certain areas where ballots are being counted cannot be occupied by a single person. Even Sherman has to have another staff member present in those areas, he said.
- Sensitive areas also have round-the-clock camera coverage, he said. Additionally, poll workers must work in pairs – ideally mixed party pairs when doing such things as assisting a voter who asks for help with the ballot at a polling place. There are also requirements for keeping a log of help of that kind, he said.
- “As you can imagine, we typically treat these ballots like they’re gold bars or kryptonite,” Sherman said. “They are in a secured environment. They’re double sealed.”
Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.