WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Sedgwick County commissioners will consider a change to legislation that would allow them to choose the election commissioner instead of the Secretary of State. This comes at the same time Tabitha Lehman, Sedgwick County Election Commissioner was told she would not be re-appointed for another term.
Election commissioners of four counties including Sedgwick County are appointed by the Kansas Secretary of State. But for years, some have been pushing to change that.
From letters and emails to Scott Schwab, Secretary of State to commissioners taking to social media, support for Lehman is coming from everywhere.
Schwab said by Lehman accessing the county’s network from home, she jeopardized the safety of Kansas election systems.
Some don’t agree though.
“I think the election commissioner has done a very good job and has demonstrated very good proficiency and deserves to continue to be in that position,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell.
Commissioner Lacey Cruse posted the following statement to her social media page:
“The news surrounding our Elections Commissioner Tabitha Lehman is disappointing to say the least. I believe Commissioner Lehman to be a dutiful public servant and a strong advocate for our voters. Mrs. Lehman, along with her team, conducted a safe and fair election in the most transparent way possible. It is simply wrong to imply or suggest otherwise. She has proven to the voters of Sedgwick County to be an impartial public servant who holds herself with integrity and honesty. The sheer fact that she conducted the biggest election of our lifetime while simultaneously fighting a battle with cancer is to be commended. I am shocked and saddened to hear she will not be reappointed. Over the next few days, the Sedgwick County Commission will consider adding Senate Bill 229 to our legislative platform. This legislation would place the appointment of the election commissioner with the Board of County Commissioners rather than the Secretary of State. As with any piece of legislation, I do not take it lightly and want to make sure I have fully considered and weighed all future ramifications of adding such a change to our county. This will be discussed further at a special meeting next week.”
Sedgwick County released the following statement:
“On behalf of the Sedgwick County Commission, we are aware of the potential change to our Elections Office. We would like to acknowledge and thank Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman for her leadership and expertise in our election office and voting process with Sedgwick County. Lehman has served for over nine years as our Election Commissioner and during her tenure has been a tremendous and dedicated public servant, ensuring safe and fair elections for the people of Sedgwick County. She is a strong advocate for the voters and candidates seeking elected offices and provided transparent elections. Lehman has had a positive impact on this community.
At this time, this situation is a personnel matter with Secretary of State Scott Schwab and Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman.”
Some citizens and voters are also voicing their opinions in form of letters and leaders to state officials.
“I just really think it’s dishonorable on [Schwab’s] part to do this to somebody who’s done such a great job and is also battling a health issue that most of us would have to drop everything for,” said Josie Bahr, business owner and voter.
Some officials said they’ve worked with Lehman for decades and appreciate her for being fair, unbiased, and diligent.
“I just can’t tell you how disappointed in Scott Schwab firing somebody who has cancer,” said Rep. John Carmichael, D-Kansas. “He ought to be ashamed of himself.”
State and local leaders are pushing for what they said is a much-needed change.
“I’m hopeful that we can get a bill introduced and that we can put the Secretary of State in his place,” said Rep. Carmichael.
Sedgwick County commissioners plan to take a deeper look at the legislation that would give them the power to select election officials, although it could take some time to make its way through the legislative process.
“Shawnee, Wyandotte, Johnson, and Sedgwick, their election commissioners are appointed by the Secretary of State,” said Howell. “Since we have a direct connection to the commission here, we are the ones that fund the office, we are the ones who pick up the phone and talk to the election commissioner very often.”
Lehman said she applied for appeals because of her health, but they either went unanswered or were rejected.
Secretary Schwab said Lehman submitted her letter of resignation, but it came after Schwab informed her that she would be out of a job after her term.
County commissioners said they will hold a special on Friday (Jan. 22) to discuss how to move forward with the potential legislation.
Howell said it is likely the other three larger Kansas counties will join in on the efforts or offer their opinions during the process.