Kansans have already requested twice as many mail-in ballots as past elections

Heading into November's general election, Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab's office had sent out more than half a million advance-by-mail ballots — more than twice as many as in 2016. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — More than twice the number of advance by-mail ballot applications have been processed in Kansas compared to the 2016 and 2018 general elections, sparked primarily by pandemic concerns.

As of Oct. 1, election offices had received nearly 400,000 mail-in ballot applications, far exceeding the 194,505 sent by mail in 2018 and 202,138 in 2016, said Katie Koupal, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Scott Schwab.

With the Oct. 27 deadline to apply for mail-in ballots still several weeks away, she said applications could exceed 500,000.

Koupal said despite a relatively seamless process in the primary election, election officials are staying alert. She also offered advice for those voting by mail.

Key dates

Oct. 13: Last day to register to vote

Oct.14: Advance ballots are mailed and in-person advance voting may begin

Oct. 27: Deadline to apply for advance by-mail ballot

Nov. 3: General Election, by-mail ballots must be postmarked by this date

Nov. 6: By-mail ballots must be received by end of workday at county election offices

“We will continue to prepare for a variety of scenarios for the November election, but we do not expect any delays,” Koupal said. “If you want to vote by casting an advance by-mail ballot, request one now — don’t wait until the last minute.”

Amid the pandemic, many Kansas voters are again turning to by-mail voting this general election to cast their ballot, despite rhetoric about voter fraud and discarded ballots. Such criminal behavior is extremely rare.

Koupal projected turnout for the Kansas general election turnout be in the range of 65% to 70%, like previous presidential election cycles. She said of the 105 counties, only six had yet to process any by-mail applications.

Fifty-six counties have received by-mail ballot applications exceeding 10% of all registered voters, 16 counties have exceeded 20% and three counties — Douglas, Trego and Harvey — have exceeded 30%.

Johnson County, with 124,006, and Sedgwick County, with 82,928, account for more than 50% of all applications processed so far.

In the run-up to the primary election and now the general election, President Donald Trump has repeatedly called into question the legitimacy of by-mail voting, calling them fraudulent and suggesting they would cause mayhem on Election Day.

Voter fraud, however, is incredibly rare. In 2017, The Brennan Center for Justice ranked the risk of ballot fraud at 0.00004% to 0.0009%. According to the Associated Press’ recent fact check of Trump, there have been no major cases of fraud in the five states that regularly send ballots to all voters.

Trump’s rhetoric, coupled with record numbers of by-mail ballot disqualifications during the primary election, has caused concern over what may happen in November when even more ballots are cast nationwide.

Patrick Miller, a political science professor at the University of Kansas, said he does not expect disqualified ballots to be a significant issue in Kansas.

“I don’t think we’ve really seen that politicization of mail-in voting here in Kansas, very strongly,” Miller said. “The thing to remember though is that Donald Trump does not determine whether your mail-in ballots get counted. In Kansas, we have election officials that decide that.”

Miller said with the unprecedented number of by-mail ballots this general election, voters should not be concerned if results are not finalized on election night.

“We are used to this culture of being able to project on election night, who’s going to win, but we’re not going to be able to necessarily do that this year, whether it is from the president down to the Kansas Legislature,” Miller said. “We have to let the legal process that’s in place for votes to be cast and counted pan out. And that is a process that will go on past Election Day.”

Miller is also an officer for Blueprint Kansas, the organization that operates ksvotes.org. The voter registration platform had come under scrutiny for its privacy policy, which allowed Blueprint Kansas to collect personal information, partner with third parties and use the data for targeted advertisements.

The policy language has since been changed to clarify the limitations of personal data use, Miller said.

“Hopefully, it sends a clear message emphasizing that we are nonpartisan and we are nonpolitical,” Miller said. “We don’t work with campaigns or parties and we have no desire to use what’s happening on the site to coordinate with a party or campaign.”

Kansans can use ksvotes.org to register to vote in person or to request an advanced ballot. People can also register at their local DMV or by filling out a state voter registration form online or in-person at their local election authority.

In order to successfully cast a ballot, registration must be completed by Oct. 13.

“Most likely, the No. 1 reason votes will not be counted this year is because of our 21-day registration and update deadline,” said Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, an organization that promotes civic engagement across the state. “There will be people who did not know about that deadline. And they are going to try to vote and they are going to run into problems.”

The main reason votes were not counted during the 2018 election was Kansans who registered to vote but moved counties and did not update their registration 21 days before, Hammet said.

Hammet encouraged those voting by mail to stick with that format and not to be dissuaded by concerns over their vote not counting.

“I recommend taking them to those drop boxes, take them to a poll site and hand-deliver them back, so you don’t have to worry about the mail return side,” Hammet said. “But if you requested one, and you get that ballot that you should stick to that. You can still go on Election Day, walk up to the polling site, skip the line and walk to the front to hand in your mail ballot.”

Advance by-mail ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, and received by the local election office by close of business Friday, Nov. 6. After initial counts on Tuesday, election officials will revisit totals Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Voters opting to mail back their ballot should send them by Oct. 27, before the deadline, to allow sufficient time for delivery, Hammett said.

Kansans can access additional information on voter registration and Election Day procedures at the Secretary of State’s website.

Gov. Laura Kelly said she believes candidates can safely campaign door-to-door in the runup to election day and would be doing so herself if she were a candidate this year.

“I think that you can knock and step back. You can mask up,” Kelly said. “You can have a conversation with somebody from six feet apart as long as you don’t spend more than a few minutes with them.”