Sedgwick County | July 28, 2023
Political mailers are flooding mailboxes. Candidates are pledging for a brighter future on shiny billboards. Election workers are working at their peak, prepping for a day without controversy. Voters… might be a little tired of it all. It’s election season.
Here in Sedgwick County, voters are deciding on who will be elected onto USD259’s school board and who will be the city of Wichita’s next mayor. In charge is Laura Rainwater, the Sedgwick County Election Commissioner.
Rainwater oversees all elections that take place in the county — from local to presidential. Planeta Venus interviewed Rainwater on voter fatigue, election security and what she wants people to understand about her job.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
There’s been a documented trend of ‘voter fatigue,’ meaning that some voters feel apathetic or disillusioned towards politics. A kind-of “why even bother voting” energy. What’s your response to those feeling like their vote is irrelevant?
Nothing is more important than local and state elections because the policies that are local and state are the decisions making the most impact (in our communities) than the national decisions that the President makes. I tell people this all the time. Elections are the foundation of our country. Without our elections, we would not have a representative form of government. So it’s critical to get out the vote.
I have voted in every election since I turned 18. It was ingrained in my brain from an early age. Now, I’ll say that I have three kids and only two of the three votes. So obviously I didn’t pass down all my knowledge. But voting is important. I don’t have the magical answer as to what keeps people from the polls. I’m not a political analyst by any means. I get disheartened when I hear people say ‘oh, my vote doesn’t matter.’ It does. It really, truly does matter.
Obviously, every voter is valuable. But we’d like to hear your thoughts on the value of communities of color, such as Latinos, showing up to the polls. Research has shown that Latinos lag behind other major demographic groups when it comes to voter registration and turnout.
My goal is that every United States citizen that is eligible to register to vote, votes. I have to keep my opinions out of play. I have to abide by the statutes and force the statutes that are given to me on election law. Both state and national. So from my stance — every voter is important. Every American citizen is important. Not all American citizens are registered voters. But those that are eligible should register and should vote. It’s the very foundation of the United States government.
In a previous interview with 12 News, you said that communication and transparency is key in your job. How do you exercise those values in your day-to-day life?
Previous to this position, I was the executive director for the Regional Economic Area Partnership, a coalition of governing bodies from ten counties in south central Kansas. I dealt with elected officials daily. We worked on regional issues that crossed over jurisdictional boundaries. So I truly know the importance of being in touch and having good communication skills and being open.
With the media — and I’ve told my staff this and the comms team at Sedgwick County — that I don’t want to block anybody from having access to me. I’m open for interviews always. There’s nothing to hide here. Elections are secure. Please reach out to me if you have questions by email.
Communication is key. It’s all how you treat people. How do you want to be treated? Do you want to be ignored? No, you want to live by the golden rule and treat others as you would want to be treated.
You’ve also said before that one of your priorities was recruiting poll workers by increasing the hourly pay. What’s the status of that goal?
That did not make it into the budget package for next year, 2024. (Poll workers) did get a one dollar raise (in) last year’s budget for this year’s election. They’re making $8.50 an hour now. Supervising judges went from $10 an hour to $11. I was hoping to get another dollar increase for 2024 but that did not happen.
For this primary election we have about 500 workers. We’re fully staffed at all of our locations. We need 200-300 more election workers for the general election this year. And we’ll probably need 900 to 1000 for the presidential next year. So we’re getting the word out to recruit poll workers. If we can have Spanish-speaking poll workers where there’s a high density population… that would be awesome.
Note: if you’re interested, visit the county’s website here for more information on becoming a poll worker, call the county election office at 316-660-7119 or send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What, if any, assistance is available to a voter who speaks limited English?
(In Sedgwick County) we don’t provide ballots in any other language. It’s determined by federal regulations. You have to meet a threshold (for ballots in languages other than English). We don’t meet any here. There’s four counties in Kansas that are required to offer ballots in Spanish — Ford, Finney and two others.
You can bring your own translator to the polls. They can help you vote. All they have to do is sign a voter assistance form. It takes two seconds — put your name and done. And if you see someone at the polling place that isn’t fully fluent in English and needs help, you can help them out if (poll workers) give you permission.
We looked at the county’s polling locations and ballot dropbox sites. We noticed that one dropbox is located at the Haysville Police Department. It’s the only one for the city. Have you ever received concerns about that location from community members that may feel discomfort approaching police property?
No. Dropboxes have to be located on government property. They have to have video accessibility to be monitored 24/7. They’re very expensive to maintain and operate because they have to be emptied by two people of opposite parties every night.
What do you wish people understood about your job?
Elections are very complex. It’s not just a three week, election-time job. Elections take up the entire year. Besides this primary coming up on August 1, we have a special election (in Clearwater) on August 29. Then we have the general election. We had another special in February. Elections take place throughout the year, it’s not just the primary and general election that everybody thinks it is.
It’s a fun and exciting job. Our elections, I will tell you, are highly secure. There are so many processes and controls in place, that for voter fraud to happen… I couldn’t see how. Not saying it couldn’t, but I don’t see how. It’s beyond my scope. We require checks and balances for every process. The voter database is a closed loop. The tag vote tabulation is not connected to the Internet in any way.
My message is: people that say elections are not secure and then attack our elected officials and our election workers — it’s not happening. (Poll workers) get paid $8.50 an hour to be there 14 hours a day. Be kind. We are all Americans. We may not agree on everything, but be kind to each other. It’s probably not going to be really bad this year, but I worry coming into the next presidential year when turnouts are much higher and emotions are heightened.
Planeta Venus published a voter’s guide to assist voters from researching candidates to marking their ballot. Read it here.