Records Set, Process Smooth for General Election

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TOPEKA, Kan. - The day after elections, the Shawnee County Election Office is quieter than it's been in weeks, but there's still much to be done.

"It isn't over yet," said Elizabeth Ensley, Shawnee County Election Commissioner. "We have a lot to prepare for the Board of Canvassers and so we will be putting in many more late nights and next weekend as well."

Wednesday, 14 members of the advanced voting board were busy handcounting write-ins and 252 ballots that couldn't go through the voting machines. Some problems they may have had were a tear in the form, a stain from a beverage, or ovals that weren't properly filled in. Ensley said it took about five minutes to count one ballot - totalling nearly seven hours of work for her day-after-election crew.

With a record-breaking number of voter turnout for the general election, Ensley said her crew was prepared, especially after a glitch in the primaries meant 4,446 votes were originally not counted.

"We were certainly very cautious," said Ensley. "We did not walk out and say, 'We have all the precincts updated,' until we actually had the reports run and had people sit and check off every single precinct, which takes another 20 minutes. But that's a good thing. We always want to make sure our results and our information is accurate."

Another delay - Ensley said Shawnee County numbers were updated on their website immediately, but the Kansas Secretary of State's Office wasn't reporting them as quickly as it was other counties' numbers.

There might have been a lack of communication that we needed to send some more results up to them, but we had them on our website throughout," said Ensley. The Secretary of State's Office said they received Shawnee County numbers via fax and that may have caused the delay.

Despite that and a few other minor problems - like construction near a polling site at 21st and Urish - Ensley says the election was a success.

"In general, I'd have to say it went very smoothly," said Ensley. "In fact, we had story after story of people really appreciating the fact it was a historic election. There were a couple young girls who were voting for the first time and after they walked in the voting place to vote, they stepped outside and took pictures of each other with the 'I Voted' stickers... It was that sort of excitement going on all day made it a lot of fun to be able to work."

There were more than 19,000 advanced voting ballots cast in Shawnee County. About 11,000 of those were mail-in. The huge surge in advance voting does give the office something to work on for the future.

"We really need to examine our handling of the mailed ballots, to be able to process those faster because it just took an awful lot of time," said Ensley.

Counting the 252 ballots tallied on Wednesday, a record-breaking 82,995 Shawnee County voters participated in the general election. The previous record was 82,915 set in 1992.

Ensley said her office had a lot of extra staff members in anticipation of the record-breaking election. "The board workers did a great job out at the voting place. They were there 14 hours. That is a very long day and they handle a lot of voters coming in," said Ensley. "They just did an absolute great job."

The Shawnee County Board of Canvassers meets Monday at 9:00 a.m. at the election office to certify the election results. The Board of Canvassers will consider 2,482 provisional ballots. Ensley said traditionally about 75% of the provisional ballots end up counting, which will increase the record-breaking voter number.