Senate, House override Gov. Kelly’s veto of two election reform bills

Skeptics argue bills inspired by desire to suppress votes

Rep. Ron Howard, a Wichita Republican battling an illness, voted from the gallery Monday as the Kansas House worked to override Gov. Laura Kelly on flag, gun, election and tax bills. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Rep. Ron Howard, a Wichita Republican battling an illness, voted from the gallery Monday as the Kansas House worked to override Gov. Laura Kelly on flag, gun, election and tax bills. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Senate and House Republicans flexed political muscle Monday to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of two election bills touted by advocates as essential to fair and transparent elections and by critics as a voter-suppression tactic.

After securing two-thirds majorities in the House chamber for House Bill 2332 and House Bill 2183, both were forwarded to the Senate for completion of the process to reverse the governor. The GOP’s large majorities in both chambers came together to thwart Kelly’s attempt to derail the bills.

“We want to have fair, safe and transparent elections,” said Sen. Larry Alley, a Winfield Republican filling the role of Senate majority leader. “That gives people confidence in our election system.”

Collectively, the bills compel organizations sending Kansas voters applications for advance ballots to disclose more information about sponsors of the mailing and to declare the application wasn’t sent by a local, state or federal government agency. Kansas candidates would no longer be able to directly assist advance voters with their ballots and non-candidates would be limited to helping no more than 10 advance voters through the process, which was referred to by some GOP lawmakers as “ballot harvesting.” Helping an 11th person with an advance ballot would be a misdemeanor offense.

Rep. Blake Carpenter, a Derby Republican, said some Kansas residents were flooded with advance voting applications sent by third-party organizations during the 2020 election cycle. A portion of those individuals responded by unnecessarily submitting multiple applications to election offices, he said.

“It’s reducing the amount of confusion that our constituents are going to have in future elections,” Carpenter said.

The election bills would prohibit the judicial and executive branches from altering election law, including deadlines for submitting ballots, without consent of the Legislature. The package compels county officials to confirm the registration address of prospective voters to reduce the risk of illegal registrants from voting in the manner former U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins did in Topeka election after claiming his residential address was a UPS store.

In addition, the bills becoming law over the governor’s objection would prohibit organizations from providing grants to county elections offices to conduct elections.

“This does not address fraud,” said Sen. Mary Ware, D-Wichita. “It’s vote suppression. It’s as simple as that.”

Parker GOP Sen. Caryn Tyson objected to the characterization of the legislative package as an attempt to deter some people from casting ballots. She said the legislation was crafted to promote election accuracy and make certain every legal vote was documented.

Rep. Vic Miller, D-Topeka, said no element of House Bill 2183 was debated on the floor of the Kansas House before it was moved through the Legislature and sent to the governor. The House elections committee didn’t have a role in shaping the bill either, he said.

“I am tired of hearing about the committee process, respecting our House, when something as blatant as what we have in front of us here is put before us — never having been debated, discussed or voted upon either in committee or on this floor,” Miller said.

On a conference call before the Legislature convened Monday, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, state Sen. Ethan Corson and Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote Action Fund, offered criticisms of both bills vetoed by Kelly. The trio urged the U.S. Senate to complete work on a U.S. House-passed bill that would remove dark money from the nation’s political process and minimize the threat of gerrymandering congressional districts.

“It is clear that we cannot trust Republicans in the Kansas Legislature to protect Kansans’ right to vote,” said Corson, a Johnson County Democrat who described the vetoed bills as attempts by the GOP to “criminalize neighbors helping neighbors” and intensify a campaign to suppress voting.

Davids, the 3rd District congresswoman and a Democrat, said the Legislature should drop the GOP-dictated legislation and “work in a bipartisan way to protect all Kansans’ freedom to vote because this is the foundation of our society.”