One of the questions asked all of the Unified Government Commission applicants at last week’s meeting was about transparency. What would they do if elected to increase transparency in the Unified Government?
No one answered, “Vote in public and release the information at the time of the vote,” because usually, the commission does, and the candidates didn’t know on May 30 that they wouldn’t. On May 30, however, the commission used written ballots and did not announce its individual votes that day. The ballots were not open to public view on May 30, but only starting May 31.
Yes, the meeting was being shown on cable television, a step toward more openness. But the lack of transparency in the voting at the meeting was surprising to me. Many of those attending thought the individual votes of each commissioner would be announced at the meeting.
The Kansas open meetings law says secret ballots are not allowed. It also says openness is the policy of the state. Anything that can be closed should be specifically stated under the exceptions listed in the open meetings law. I asked and was not allowed to see the ballots on Thursday, and was told to come back later, not that day. I was told that everyone who wanted to see the ballots was being told to come back Friday.
By opening the ballots to public view the next day, the UG Commission may have tried to get around the open meetings law, but in my opinion, transparency begins with each vote, at the same time the vote is taken, and it is not transparent if you are told to come back the next day and find out then.
Openness also could have prevented the embarrassing situation the UG found itself in, having announced one voting result, then having to say there was a mistake in counting the nine votes an hour or so later.
A mistake in counting the ballots was not corrected immediately because the individual votes were secret at the time of the meeting. Had a regular roll-call vote been taken with each commissioner voting aloud, the commissioners would have known right away if the results announced by the clerk were correct.
As it was, a vote total was announced, but none of the commissioners knew right away if it was incorrect. The commission came back an hour or so later, after dinner, and it was announced that a miscount was made in the tally of the votes. The person who had been announced as the second-place finalist, Melissa Bynum, was not in the final two, UG officials announced, and Nathan Barnes, a former commissioner, was now a finalist.
If it was correct, as we were told, that no one could see the ballots until May 31, then there was no outside witness to the ballots on May 30. Only a few people paid by the UG could see the ballots then. That is a flaw in the system.
Voting by written ballot without announcing the individual votes immediately is a bad precedent. Picture this system continuing down the road. Twenty years from now, will an unscrupulous bunch get into office and change ballot results in between the time of the vote and the time of the announcement of the vote? The potential for voter fraud grows greater with the passage of time between the vote itself and the announcement of the vote.
Some people may not like the roll-call vote, because sometimes there is a tendency for board members to go along with the first or second person who votes aloud, but that can be remedied by board members deciding to make up their own minds and go their own way.
And anyone who is too afraid of the public finding out the way they voted probably shouldn’t have run for public office in the first place. We need people who are willing to make their own decisions, speak their minds and not be afraid to vote the way they want to, and explain why they voted.
Besides an open roll-call vote, or the announcement of how they voted individually at the end of a ballot, there’s something else that could have prevented mistakes, and that is an election at the polls, where all the registered voters can cast a ballot. That might have been closer to what the public wants.
To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email email@example.com.