Kansas GOP’s election reform efforts hit snag

Kansas Senate Republicans, spurred by conspiracy theories, rewrote a bill that would ban remote ballot drop boxes and bar election officials from using machines to count ballots starting next year. The House is not expected to approve the proposal and the bill likely would be vetoed even if it were to pass.


State News

March 5, 2024 - 1:26 PM

A ballot drop box used in local elections sits in storage in Lawrence in 2022. Some Republican legislators in Kansas want to ban remote drop boxes in a vote Tuesday and their push is endangering another GOP proposal to shorten the time voters have to return mail ballots. Photo by AP Photo/John Hanna

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A repeating of baseless election conspiracy theories in the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature appears to have scuttled GOP lawmakers’ efforts this year to shorten the time that voters have to return mail ballots.

The state Senate was set to take a final vote Tuesday on a bill that would eliminate the three extra days after polls close for voters to get mail ballots back to their local election offices. Many Republicans argue that the so-called grace period undermines confidence in the state’s election results, though there’s no evidence of significant problems from the policy.

During a debate Monday, GOP senators rewrote the bill so that it also would ban remote ballot drop boxes — and, starting next year, bar election officials from using machines to count ballots. Ballot drop boxes and tabulating machines have been targets across the U.S. as conspiracy theories have circulated widely within the GOP and former President Donald Trump has promoted the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.

The Senate’s approval of the bill would send it to the House, but the bans on vote-tabulating machines and remote ballot drop boxes all but doom it there. Ending the grace period for mail ballots already was an iffy proposition because Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly opposes the idea, and GOP leaders didn’t have the two-thirds majority necessary to override her veto of a similar bill last year.

Some Republicans had hoped they could pass a narrow bill this year and keep the Legislature’s GOP supermajorities together to override a certain Kelly veto.

“This isn’t a vote that’s going to secure our election,” Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican, said Monday, arguing against the ban on vote-tabulation machines. “It’s going to put an anchor around the underlying bill.”

Trump’s false statements and his backers’ embrace of the unfounded idea that American elections are rife with problems have split Republicans. In Kansas, the state’s top election official, Secretary of State Scott Schwab, is a conservative Republican, but he’s repeatedly vouched for the integrity of the state’s elections and promoted ballot drop boxes.

Schwab is neutral on whether Kansas should eliminate its three-day grace period, a policy lawmakers enacted in 2017 over concerns that the U.S. Postal Service’s processing of mail was slowing.

More than 30 states require mail ballots to arrive at election offices by Election Day to be counted, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and their politics vary widely. Among the remaining states, the deadlines vary from 5 p.m. the day after polls close in Texas to no set deadline in Washington state.

Voting rights advocates argue that giving Kansas voters less time to return their ballots could disenfranchise thousands of them and particularly disadvantage poor, disabled and older voters and people of color. Democratic Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, of Wichita, the Senate’s only Black woman, said she was offended by comments suggesting that ending the grace period would not be a problem for voters willing to follow the rules.

“It makes it harder for people to vote — period,” she said.

In the House, its Republican Elections Committee chair, Rep. Pat Proctor, said he would have the panel expand early voting by three days to make up for the shorter deadline.

Proctor said Monday that there’s no appetite in the House for banning or greatly restricting ballot drop boxes.

“Kansans that are not neck-deep in politics — they see absolutely no issue with voting machines and, frankly, neither do I,” he said.

During the Senate’s debate, conservative Republicans insisted that electronic tabulating machines can be manipulated, despite no evidence of it across the U.S. They brushed aside criticism that returning to hand-counting would take the administration of elections back decades.

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