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Trump supporters are talking about post-election audits. Here’s what that looks like in Kansas:

Andrew Bahl
abahl@gannett.com
County election officials across the state are in the process of conducting post-election audits to ensure machines and procedures worked.

As President Donald Trump, his supporters and conservative state lawmakers in a host of swing states grapple over the presidential election results, some are calling for extensive auditing in an effort to ferret out unsubstantiated claims of fraud.

Trump’s campaign has not presented any evidence of fraud in legal filings challenging the results of several states. Nonetheless, he has refused to concede the race to President-elect Joe Biden, saying all votes need to be counted and the results reviewed first.

Top Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania, for instance, want more extensive auditing of results before Biden’s victory in the Keystone State is certified, although detractors maintain this is just delaying the inevitable.

Pennsylvania already requires some form of post-election auditing, as do 33 other states. That includes Kansas, which began last year requiring local election officials to conduct a review in order to ensure equipment worked and procedures were followed.

Under state law, one federal, state and local race is randomly selected by the Secretary of State for each county to review. Local officials then blindly select which precincts will have their ballots double checked.

A manual hand count of the ballots is then conducted and a report is eventually provided from each county to the state.

“So really what they were doing was comparing what they saw on the paper ballot with what we reported on election night,” said Shawnee County Elections Director Andrew Howell

Howell said that his full-time staff does not actually conduct the review, which is done by a registered voter from each party.

So far, he noted, there had not been an instance where the results did not match up. If there was a discrepancy, the local election director or the secretary of state could order a more thorough review to determine what, if any, problems may exist.

While much of the process is open to the public, he noted that few observers have turned up – something which indicated voter trust, he said.

“I think its a good thing that people aren’t worried enough to be here,” Howell said.

But there are areas of improvement that some say the state should consider in order to strengthen election security.

Kansas is one of a majority of states which have not elected to implement a more rigorous system, known as risk-limiting audits.

Only four states –Colorado, Nevada, Rhode Island and Virginia– require risk-limiting audits, which are intensive than what Kansas does.

They also review fewer ballots if the results are a blowout, whereas a close race would get a much more thorough review. The idea is to target resources where they are most needed without sacrificing security.

Still, Kansas fares better elsewhere, with the overwhelming majority of counties using electronic voting machines that also print paper copies of ballots.

This is considered the gold standard for security purposes, as the paper records allow voters to check how they have voted and allow for easier tabulation in the event of an error or outside security threat.

A small minority of counties, however, still use touchscreen machines which do not create a paper record, even though the state has mandated that such machines cannot be purchased in the future.

As of February that list included eight counties, although Harvey County is planning to purchase new machines by 2021.

Sen. Richard Hildebrand, R-Galena, said Tuesday that he was planning on re-introducing a bill requiring those counties do away with the older machines in light of the recent election.

More auditing would also be required for machines where results are stored electronically, even if a paper trail is produced, to guard against technical glitches.

Hildebrand pointed to an error in one Michigan county, where officials did not update the software and, as a result, the vote tallies were skewed. The mistake was later rectified thanks to the paper trail.

“Nobody caught that if you don’t have that paper ballot and you don’t have that audit process, no one knows” he said in an interview Wednesday. “If you do not have confidence in the accuracy of that, it just is no good.”

Counties, however, have framed the bill as an unfunded mandate and have pushed for more time in order to comply.

“Such a requirement, while facing the realities of the tax lid and other demands on local budgets, may simply be impossible to meet under current conditions,” Jay Hall, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of Counties, told a Senate committee in February.

But Hildebrand countered that there is nothing stopping counties from counting votes by hand after retiring the machines.

“You would have a process that you can verify really quickly that this is what happened and this is accurate,” he said.

Signs looking for an end to election fraud are seen Monday morning during a rally at the Statehouse.