What Kansas lawmakers would do if they really wanted to improve elections

Expanding mail-in voting would be one way to improve elections in Kansas, writes Nadine Johnson of the ACLU. (Getty Images)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Nadine Johnson is the executive director of the ACLU of Kansas.

The shameful legislative override of Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of House Bills 2183 and 2332 last week is not, as the Kansas Legislature would have you believe, a good-faith undertaking to make our elections more secure. It is a continuation in their ongoing, active efforts to undermine our democracy.

Our system of government requires participation. It seems as though the Kansas Legislature wants to choose who participates.

Everyone can see the obvious here: These voter suppression bills limit citizen participation in open and fair elections. They target a cross-section of Kansas voters, and will disproportionately impact seniors, the disabled, people of color and rural voters. These bills — like so many before them, including the ill-fated Documentary Proof of Citizenship law — have one goal: limiting who votes in Kansas.

There was a time in this country when registrars required Black people to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar to qualify to vote. Some of the people who endured this Jim Crow-era tactic are still alive today, and their children and grandchildren still face harmful voter suppression efforts.

Across the country, one in 13 Black Americans cannot vote due to disenfranchisement laws. One-third of voters who have a disability report difficulty voting. Counties with larger minority populations have fewer polling sites and poll workers per voter. The tactics may be different now, but the goal is surely the same.

Since the November election, and particularly in the past few weeks, we’ve seen state after state embrace voter suppression tactics — an effort so broad, so brazen, that the Washington Post called it “the most sweeping contraction of ballot access in the United States since the end of Reconstruction.”

The Kansas Legislature did its part with these dual overrides, encouraging hesitant lawmakers to sign on with the cynical argument that these laws are not as bad as Georgia’s.

We know that the 2020 election in Kansas was secure — so much so, per Secretary of State Schwab, that other states’ election officials are “looking at the way we do things and how they can implement it.” We know that these bills are not about election integrity.

As we’ve said before, if lawmakers really wanted to improve elections, they would work to expand and protect the franchise. The ACLU has argued for years that eliminating arbitrary voting barriers boosts voter turnout. High voter turnout means a healthier democracy. For these reasons, the ACLU supports a raft of secure citizen-participation expanding efforts. We invite the Kansas Legislature to serve the people by working to:

Expand mail-in voting: Provide every eligible voter who wishes to vote by mail the opportunity to do so. Allow online submission of applications. Make sure every jurisdiction provides postage-prepaid, self-sealing mail-in ballots.

Expand early voting: Election Day is a workday for most Kansans. Early voting removes barriers for those who must report to work on Election Day.

Improve voter registration in Kansas: Offer online voter registration with electronic signature. Allow same-day voter registration.

Our officials should also streamline the restoration of voting rights for previously incarcerated individuals; ensure voter roll clean-up is carried out fairly, with appropriate notice; and block discriminatory voter ID laws and other onerous, unnecessarily burdensome requirements.

And of course, they should draw fair, fully representative districts, rather than engaging in manipulative gerrymandering.

Voting is a right, not a privilege. Let’s keep working to make sure our lawmakers get the message.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.