By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
As part of the recent Pancake Day celebration, many dignitaries from across the state made their way to Liberal for the festivities.
Along with those officials, a candidate for Kansas Secretary of State made the journey to the area.
With the recent resignation of former secretary Ron Thornburgh, Elizabeth Ensley has filed for the position, and she brings much in the way of experience to the position.
“I’ve had 11 years of experience working in the election office,” she said in a Leader interview Tuesday afternoon. “I was appointed Shawnee County election commissioner. I’ve been election commissioner for 18 years. I have 29 years experience of working either in or with the secretary of state’s office.”
Ensley said as election commissioner, when a even a hint of fraud takes place, she makes sure it gets investigated and the person is prosecuted.
“Because of that in Shawnee County, we’ve actually had 13 people convicted of election crimes,” she said. “It’s not just talk. It’s action. But that isn’t enough. We also need to protect against election fraud.”
Because of this, Ensley said she is in favor of voter ID.
“There is legislation this year again,” she said. “I’ve been up to speak to the legislature. I hope that we’ll be able to get voter ID at some point in time in Kansas.”
Ensley said with a dad who had served in the military and a son currently serving, an issue that is close to her heart is the rights of men and women in uniform to vote.
“I think most people are not aware that the men and women who are fighting for our democracy overseas don’t have the same right to vote that we do,” she said. “They are not allowed to vote on local questions or precinct committee officials. It’s my mission to make sure that does gets changed.”
Ensley said this is her second year working with the legislature to get that law changed.
“At the moment, they are not allowed to vote on local questions even though they live in the district, work in the district and pay their taxes in the district,” she said.
Ensley said the secretary of state’s office is a very important one, as it touches every business in the state.
“You have corporations that are filed there, trademarks, service marks that are registered there,” she said. “Notary publics are filed there or appointed from the secretary of state’s office. It deals with all the businesses of the state.”
Ensley had worked in the secretary’s office, overseeing data entry operators.
“We worked for every one of the divisions of the secretary of state’s office,” she said. “We did a lot of work actually computerizing the corporation files, as well as the lien searches for banks or businesses. A lot of farmers could finance their crops or sell their crops and all the businesses as well.”
In this way, Ensley said she is very familiar with that end of the office.
“Now, all of that is computerized and online,” she said. “It’s truly a case of where government can provide the framework and get out of the way so the average person can take care of their own business, do their own searches. They don’t need my staff to do it anymore. Very few parts of government can actually say that.”
The secretary of state’s office has two major divisions, one of which is the elections division, with the secretary serving as the chief elections officer of the state. The other division is business, which Ensley said takes care of corporations, uniform and commercial codes and lien filings.
“They also have administrative services, and that’s where notary publics are filed,” she said. “They take care of the business of the office in general. They’re very involved with secured transactions over the Internet.”
Ensley said when it comes to election fraud, officials will always need to watch and protect against people and groups that want to take advantage of the system.
“Kansas does have good election laws that constantly require double checking people of both political parties, watching and overseeing, test equipment before the election, test it again after the election, compare numbers on books to the equipment throughout the election,” she said. “We have a good set of laws to back and support us.”
Kansas is a state which primarily favors one party, and Ensley said not being a swing state distracts attention reserved for other states from national groups regarding fairness of elections.
“In Kansas, we have an excellent group of county clerks and election officials with local control for each county,” she said. “It isn’t just run from the state somewhere.”
Ensley said although Kansas has good laws and a good organization for running elections and protecting against fraud, it is an issue everyone must protect against at all times. She said the most common fraud is multiple voting in an election.
“Most election crimes are felonies,” she said. “To vote twice is a misdemeanor. I actually was up at the legislature just last week helping to try to convince them we need to change that law and make it a felony too.”
Ensley said she believes voting twice in an election should be a felony, which would automatically take a person’s right to vote away.
“You don’t lose your right to vote if you commit a misdemeanor,” she said. “Hopefully, we can get that changed and it’s much stricter.”
This is just one of the many types of election fraud, according to Ensley.
“A significant number of my 13 people who’ve been convicted of crimes have been for false signatures on petitions,” she said. “They’re trying to throw the process when they do that.”
Ensley said a petition requires a certain number of signatures to either stop an issue from happening or call an election, and when individuals throw a name on a petition, they throw the process.
“We’ve been able to stop that, catch them and prosecute them,” she said.
Ensley said election officials in Kansas not only compare records with other counties in the state, but through the secretary of state’s office, they compare records to surrounding states.
“There’s several other states in our region where we bump our files against it, compare the two,” she said. “If we have someone with the same last name and the same last four digits of their Social Security number or birthday, we also check to see whether they have voted in both places. We do a lot of research in that way too.”
Ensley said elections are a partnership with the secretary of state, local election officials and the state legislature working together.
“Because we’ve had a good partnership over the years, Kansas does have a lot of good laws in regards to practice in elections,” she said.
This year’s primary election will take place on Aug. 3, and the general election will take place Nov. 2.