Unbothered by cost concerns, Kansas senators approve ballot watermark bill

By: - March 15, 2022 8:30 am

Sen. Marci Francisco cast in doubt whether the effort led by Sen. Richard Hilderbrand to have a distinctive watermark on every Kansas ballot actually addressed any issue in election security. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Senate on Tuesday approved a senator’s efforts to ensure all voting systems in Kansas use a paper ballot with a distinctive watermark.

Senate Bill 389, introduced by Sen. Richard Hildebrand, R-Galena, also requires a hand audit of these ballots after the election. Currently, Kansas requires election clerks to physically stamp each ballot, but Hildebrand brought the bill to ensure human error does not come into play.

In a hearing earlier this month, voting rights advocates raised concerns about the impact of the bill on Kansans with disabilities and the cost for counties to print new ballots. The concerns were echoed by Senate Democrats who said this would not address any real issue.

“I am happy to support things that will make our election process more secure. I don’t see any way that this would do that,” said Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, during debate over the bill on Monday. “I also know that we are putting all the cost of this on our counties, and it is not something that any of my county residents have asked for.”

Hildebrand countered that the cost was with the perceived security.

“How much is peace of mind worth? Two cents? I’ll put my two cents in,” Hildebrand said.

The state would not incur any costs, although counties would incur costs related to ballot printing and additional wages for election board workers. The Senate gave preliminary approval to the bill on Monday, then passed it 27-11 on Tuesday.

A provision in the measure authorizes a risk-limiting audit. This provides a confidence assessment for each race to allow election offices to focus their attention where it is needed most.

Sen. Ethan Corson, a Fairway Democrat, opposed imposing an unfunded mandate that didn’t address a clear problem. He also expressed concerns about unintended or unforeseen ramifications of the bill.

“I don’t want us to head into another costly taxpayer-funded lawsuit like we’ve done several times with election-related bills,” Corson said. “I want to make sure at least from an (Americans with Disabilities Act) perspective that we’ve kicked the tires on this one.”

Opponents also noted some sloppiness around the legislation, including a lack of clear guidelines for the sample audit and mislabeled section numbers in the bill.

Republican Secretary of State Scott Schwab has stated Kansas elections are safe and secure, and there were no signs of any form of voter fraud.

Still, Sen. Rob Olson noted a lack of faith in the election process among people across the state. Ensuring Kansans feel their vote is secure and the process is well protected is crucial, the Olathe Republican said.

“Our voters, more and more, are upset,” Olson said. “They’re not believing in the process we have. This is just one more tool that will say every ballot is legit.”

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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.