Bills altering Kansas election law raise questions of supporting groups and committee process

By: - March 7, 2022 2:53 pm

Rep. Cindy Holscher was most concerend with the intentions of the group backing Senate Bill 418, the Opportunity Solutions Project. The group has been a proponent of work requirements for SNAP and endorsed model legislation aligned with the Brownback-era Hope Act in Kansas. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A pair of bills amending Kansas election law headed to the full Senate on Monday after committee approval, but some legislators are not on board with the groups pushing for the measures or the speed they are moving through committee.

Senate Bill 418 would amend a law enacted last session to prevent the Secretary of State from entering into any judicial agreement that could modify election procedure without approval from the Legislative Coordinating Council. The 2022 bill would tack the governor and any executive branch officer onto that list.

An amendment to the measure requires the Legislature to approve any agreement, rather than the council, when in session. 

Sen. Cindy Holscher did not weigh in as much on the content of the bill, but the context. She noted the bill was introduced on the behest of Opportunity Solutions Project, a branch of the conservative Foundation for Government Accountability based in Florida. The group has been a proponent of work requirements for SNAP and endorsed model legislation aligned with the Brownback-era Hope Act in Kansas.

“We’ve had some questions about their intent,” the Overland Park Democrat said. “My other concern is the timing of when information was posted about this hearing. I have heard from several different individuals who indicate they would have supplied opponent testimony, but there was not sufficient notice.”

The bill received a hearing Feb. 15 according to a Senate calendar for the day, but the bill’s official Legislature page has not been updated to reflect this. There was only one opponent able to testify on Senate Bill 418.

Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, a Baxter Springs Republican, said the Opportunity Solutions Project may have brought the bill, but it had at least one pair of legislator’s eyes on it before it was introduced. Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican, and committee chairman, said the bill was on the calendar in a timeframe sufficient as to allow anybody interested to testify

“I can’t explain anything outside of that,” Olson said. “We do our best with a calendar, but sometimes things move pretty quick, and this is early in the process. We still got plenty of opportunities to debate the bill.”

The second measure approved by the committee, Senate Bill 438, would add a procedural, hand-counted audit of 10% of county precincts whenever a federal, statewide or legislative race comes down to a margin of 1% or less of votes. The proposal would apply in even-numbered election years.

The audit would be in addition to a 2018 requirement that auditing is done in 1% of precincts in each county in randomly selected races.

Voting rights advocates said deeper scrutiny of election outcomes would ensure any issues or minor errors are cleared up. While some expressed concern with instituting this new policy between now and upcoming elections, a representative of the state’s highest election office told legislators they were ready to enact the policy.

An amendment from Hildebrand would allow authorized poll agents to look over polling location abstracts.

“It looks just like a printed receipt that you get from within the grocery store, but it will have the numbers of ballots that went through the process. It does not tell you who voted or how they voted,” Hilderbrand said. “If they wanted to verify or to review, they would have the opportunity to look at that abstract.”

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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.