Election Day game plan paramount for Kansas voters amid pandemic, record turnout

By: - November 1, 2020 4:00 am

More than 642,000 Kansas voters have already cast their ballot. On Tuesday, voters can expect socially distanced lines and booths at their polling locations. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — To minimize Election Day hiccups, voting rights advocates in Kansas are strongly encouraging voters to make a game plan before heading to the polls Tuesday.

Amid a pandemic and record voter turnout, the 2020 general election will look and feel a little different in Kansas than in years past. Voters will be greeted by a socially distanced setup and an expected record turnout.

More than 1,350,000 people will vote in this year’s general election, according to estimates by the Office of the Kansas Secretary of State. That would be an increase of more than 100,000 from any previous election.

These factors could lead to longer lines and added confusion to a sometimes-complex voting process, making a plan to vote much more crucial, said Teresa Briggs, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas.

Teresa Briggs, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, said she wants voters to feel empowered, “knowing what is going to be on their ballot and having an idea of who they are going to vote for,” to help speed the process. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

“We want to make voters feel empowered, which is going to primarily be going to the polls, knowing what is going to be on their ballot and having an idea of who they are going to vote for,” Briggs said. “That will make the process quicker and more efficient.”

With many changes to the usual voting routine, a game plan — and possibly a backup plan — is necessary to avoid any voting pitfalls and to prepare if things do not go so smoothly.

While the expected turnout percentage, 70%, is not a record, the total number of voters expected, both on Election Day and in advance, would be. As of Oct. 31, more than 711,664 Kansans had cast an advanced ballot by mail or in person.

Of the by-mail ballots sent out, 393,486 have been returned — a 77% return rate. During primary elections, the return rate was 83%, so tens of thousands more ballots are expected to be counted before the Nov. 6 deadline.

By the numbers:

3: Nov. 3 is Election Day

7: Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. State law allows counties to open as early as 6 a.m. and close as late as 8 p.m.

250: There is a 250-foot electioneering buffer zone at polling sites in Kansas

711,664: The total number of advanced ballots cast as of Oct. 31

1.35 million: The estimated total voter turnout

Despite these advanced voting numbers, Briggs is encouraging voters to arrive at the polls prepared for anything.

“We’re just encouraging people to just plan for the worst-case scenario that they are going to be there in line for several hours,” Briggs said. “So if they need a folding chair, if they need water or if they are going to need medication, take it with you, because you don’t want to have to step out of that line to go do something else.”

Valeria Espadas Ibarra, community mobilizer for El Centro in Wyandotte County, has been telling voters she has spoken with to expect long lines as well but feels voters should not be discouraged if the line appears long.

“I do expect that wait time to be a little bit longer Nov. 3,” Espadas Ibarra said. “Don’t be discouraged. Most polling places are saying that even if there is a long line, they will move quickly. You won’t have to stay in line for more than 20 or 30 minutes if advanced voting is any indication.”

Lines will be longer but not because there are more people in them, said Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab. He said voters are being asked to social distance, which often makes the line appear larger than it is.

In addition to the socially distanced line, polling locations and workers have been outfitted with plexiglass shields, protective screens and distanced voting booths. 

Although voters should not be turned away from a polling location if they do not wear a mask, Schwab strongly encouraged those voting in person to do so.

“We encourage folks to follow your county guidelines and stay healthy,” Schwab said. “It’s just a few minutes. If it’s uncomfortable and you don’t want to do it just wear it, get it over with and then go on about your life.”

Besides long lines, concerns over voter intimidation or suppression are front in center in many voting rights advocates’ minds, including Nadine Johnson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas.

A recent Supreme Court case upheld a Kansas law prohibiting electioneering within 250 feet of a polling site, but in an election season that coincides with a fight for racial justice, a pandemic and an economic crisis, the ACLU has its eyes peeled for any violations of the statute, Johnson said.

“We’ve been preparing for any instances of electioneering,” Johnson said. “Voters should be aware that there is that kind of buffer there, which hopefully will alleviate any concerns about people showing up at the polls and trying to pressure voters.”

If voters do feel pressured, they can call the ACLU’s election protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE. Staff will be on hand to address any concerns in several languages, including Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin.

Johnson also echoed Briggs in asking voters to arrive prepared at the polls. She said the ACLU of Kansas website can be used as a one-stop election hub to prepare.

“We are really hoping folks will have time to prepare to vote and call the hotline if they have any issues or concerns,” Johnson said. “Just know that we are really trying to prepare for every scenario.”

To help prepare for several scenarios, here are a few answers to some important questions you should be asking before Election Day.

What do you need to do before Election Day?

Your game plan is key, and the best ones are developed well before Election Day.

The first thing experts suggest is tracking down your voting location. Amid the pandemic, some counties have had to consolidate or change locations because of the need for social distancing. 

That means some Kansas voters may not be voting in the same locations as in previous years. At the League of Women Voters’ Vote411 website, Kansans can double-check polling locations.

Other considerations include transportation to and from the polls, what you may need in line and, maybe most importantly, what is on your ballot. Advocates encouraged voters to get familiarized with ballot layout and candidates before they cast a ballot.

You can preview your ballot here.

What should I bring with me to the polling location?

Key Term: Provisional ballot 

Provisional voting provides individuals with the opportunity to vote even though questions exist on their eligibility. You may be given a provisional ballot for the following reasons:

  • Failure to provide photo identification
  • Address change
  • Name change
  • Already issued a ballot

If there is one thing to make sure you bring to the polls, it is a form of valid identification. Kansas law requires voters to present a government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot.

Valid forms of ID include a driver’s license, a U.S. Passport or U.S. Military ID. Students may use a school ID card from any accredited post-secondary education institution in Kansas.

If someone forgets their ID, they can still cast a ballot provisionally. It is then up to the voter to provide the county elections office with a valid form of ID as soon as possible to make sure the vote counts.

The Secretary of State’s office has also encouraged voters to bring masks with them. Advocates encouraged additional items for health and safety, like hand sanitizer and wipes for any common touchpoints.

What can I expect at the polling site on Election Day?

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Tuesday. If you are in line by the time poll locations close, you are legally allowed to vote.

Lines will almost certainly appear long, but do not be discouraged. Those in line will be social distanced, which may make the wait look longer than it is.

Once it is your turn to vote, you will be given a pen by poll workers. One end will have a stylus if you choose to vote electronically, and the writing end will be for those casting a paper ballot.

Pens will not be reused, so consider it a keepsake from the 2020 election.

Resources in this article

Office of the Secretary of State:

ACLU of Kansas: 

League of Women Voters of Kansas:

This story has been updated to reflect state statute allows counties to open as early as 6 a.m. and close as late as 8 p.m.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.