These Kansas bills would restrict voting

There’s almost no subterfuge anymore. No sleight of hand. Opponents of democracy continue to launch full-frontal attacks on the right to vote.

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Columnists

March 7, 2024 - 2:27 PM

A ballot drop box was available for voters to drop their ballot in outside of the Wyandotte County Election Office in 2023. On March 4, the Kansas Senate voted to ban remote ballot drop boxes as well as eliminate the three-day grace period for mail-in ballots to arrive if they were postmarked by election day. (Tammy Ljungblad/The Kansas City Star/TNS)

Many historians liken the current societal tumult in the nation to what was happening across the country in the 1850s.

Sectional tensions tore at the nation’s fabric. The country was turning painfully toward images of itself, wondering if our founding ideals and the institution of slavery could coexist. America stood deeply divided in ways that seemed unsustainable. Many of those specters continue to haunt public discourse.

Back then, only certain groups could vote. Today, legislative extremists want to ensure voting — one of our most sacredly held values — becomes a privilege rather than a right. They’ve launched a fusillade of bills targeting the voting rights of everyday citizens.

Democracy should not be a partisan matter — it’s the very foundation that ensures each Kansas voter can have a voice in the laws and policies affecting their lives. The election process is the single most meaningful way for Kansans to hold their elected officials accountable, which is why it’s so disturbing to see some of those same elected officials leverage their power to undermine that fundamental process of accountability.

Democracy is strongest when more people participate, and these bills are designed to make fewer people participate.

There’s almost no subterfuge anymore. No sleight of hand. Opponents of democracy continue to launch full-frontal attacks on the right to vote.

These bills are reminiscent of the attacks on Kansans’ voting rights during the era of then-Secretary of State Kris Kobach. We somberly remind our legislators that those attacks have been rejected time after time — rejected by Kansans, rejected by courts, and rejected by common sense. 

When Kobach pushed through attacks on our democracy, it resulted in lengthy, costly and significant losses for Kobach. Those unconstitutional laws were struck down on behalf of Kansas voters, and any new unconstitutional attacks on our democracy will be, too.

From restricting mail-in voting, to punishing voters for post office delays, to restricting the use of advance ballots entirely, to establishing an “oversight” board that will give full rein to extremists who want to police individual Kansas voters — all of these bills are in themselves efforts to tamp down on voter confidence and enthusiasm in our democracy.

Gov. Laura Kelly said as much recently, asking a crowd in the Capitol rotunda to work diligently with her to protect voting rights in Kansas against campaigns to diminish the influence of Black people in electoral politics.

“For too long, people of color have been targeted by legislation that attempts to limit their constitutional right to cast a ballot,” Kelly said.

Only last year, the governor vetoed a bill requiring advance voting ballots to be delivered to officials on Election Day. That decision retained a state law authorizing a three-day grace period for arrival of late ballots by mail. Kelly also signed legislation giving voters a chance to clarify ballot signatures to prevent votes from being discarded. She ordered state agencies to provide Kansans with more opportunities to register to vote.

“It’s despicable, especially when what we should be doing is making it easier, not harder, for Kansans to make their voices heard at the ballot box,” Kelly said in her remarks in the Capitol Rotunda.

The ACLU of Kansas’ policy director, Rashane Hamby, said it may be tempting for lawmakers to get lost in the details, but they should not lose sight of the fact that Kansas has a lot of ground to make up in relation to other states and voting access.

“Kansas still remains in the bottom of the country for voter turnout,” Hamby said. “Every last one of these bills is about creating barriers and making it even harder for Kansans to vote, especially elderly voters, those who are in rural communities, or voters with disabilities. We know that Kansans as a whole trust our election process and the officials who administer it, but many lawmakers continue to politicize our fundamental right to vote and lean on misinformation to justify it.”

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