Updated on April 19, 2020
Voting in Kansas Under COVID-19: How a 2019 Elections Bill Could Offer Protections
Andi is a 3L at the University of Kansas School of Law. She attended the University of Kansas for her Bachelor’s degree, where she studied Microbiology and Political Science. Professionally, Andi is interested in litigation. Kansas City Joe’s and Nelson-Atkins are her favorite Kansas City icons.
Governor Kelly signed into law amendments to the election process in Kansas on April 15, 2019. 1 The law expands certain protections to voters who vote by advance ballot and increases access to polling places. 2
As of April 25, 2019, “the county election officer shall attempt to contact each person who submits by advance ballot where there is no signature or where the signature does not match with the signature on file and allow such voter the opportunity to correct the deficiency before the commencement of the final county canvass.” 3 Senate Bill 130 granted advance voters additional protection for their vote to be counted by ensuring an election officer attempts to contact them to correct deficiencies in their signature. Tabitha Lehman, the election commissioner for Sedgwick County, who testified in support of the bill, stated 380 ballots had to be rejected due to signature issues. 4 In the Senate Committee for Elections, Letitia Harmon from the ACLU of Kansas testified 493 ballots were rejected because of signature mismatch. 5
The law also allows, “[a]t the discretion of the county election officer, all voters within a county may be allowed to vote at any polling location on election day.” 6 Prior to enactment of the bill, Kansas voters were required to vote at their designated polling place. 7 Jason P. Watkins, testifying for Sedgwick County Commissioners, stated that “Sedgwick County believes this change would not only allow more citizens to vote, but make it easier and more convenient for them to vote as well.” 8 The law does not impose any additional duties on election officers, but it gives them the discretion to allow expanded access to polling places within their county. 9
Since the spread of COVID-19 in the United States, this law and its changes in election law could offer additional protection for voters seeking to avoid crowded polling places. Election officials should consider the public health concerns in requiring voters to go to a polling place to cast their ballot. 10 In Kansas, all registered voters can request an advance ballot to submit by mail or by hand-delivering their ballot to any polling place in their county. 11 While the option to vote by mail is available, the additional protections in SB 130 provide further assurances for voters choosing to exercise their right to vote from the safety of their homes.
- S.B. 130 §§ 1-2, 2019 Leg., 88th Sess. (Kan. 2019).
- Id. (emphasis added).
- SB 130 Minutes for SB 130, Comm. of Elec. (Mar. 14, 2019), http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2019_20/measures/minutes/agenda_item_2019030657292045671.
- SB 130 Testimony by American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas (Mar. 14, 2019), http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2019_20/committees/ctte_h_electns_1/documents/testimony/20190314_04.pdf.
- S.B. 130 § 2, 2019 Leg., 88th Sess. (Kan. 2019)
- Kan. Stat. Ann. 2018 Supp. 25-2701 (2018).
- SB 130 Testimony by Board of Sedgwick County Commissioners (Feb. 20, 2019), http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2019_20/committees/ctte_s_ethics_elections_and_local_government_1/documents/testimony/20190220_10.pdf.
- Nick Corasaniti and Stephanie Saul, Voting by Mail Is the Hot New Idea. Is There Time to Make It Work? N.Y. Times, (Mar. 19, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/19/us/politics/voting-by-mail-coronavirus.html; see also Zach Montellaro, Pandemic threatens monster turnout in November, Politico (Mar. 31, 2020, 4:30 A.M.), https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/31/states-struggle-voting-pandemic-155700 (“two-thirds of American adults say they would be uncomfortable going to a polling place to vote”).
- Kansas Sec. of State, Voting & Registration, https://sos.kansas.gov/elections/registration-voting/ (last visited Apr. 1, 2020).