Kansas’ top election officer releases plan for new legislation, emphasizes voter security

Secretary of State Scott Schwab says he will introduce legislation meant to modernize state election laws

By: - January 6, 2023 8:30 am
Election worker Virginia Engroff watches voters fill out advanced ballots

Kansas election security has been questioned by residents who believe the 2020 presidential election was rigged. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas election laws may be overhauled again this year with new legislation geared toward clearing up confusion with state voting processes.

Secretary of State Scott Schwab, the state’s top elections officer, said he planned to introduce legislation to update state election codes and simplify state election laws this year, following confusion over rules and regulation in past elections.

“Over the past year, our agency has reviewed lessons learned from past elections and best practices from other states,” Schwab said in a news release. “This legislation will improve election administration processes, reduce the burden on county election staff and protect election integrity and transparency.”

Schwab said voting privacy and security would also be priorities for him in the upcoming legislative session. He plans to propose legislation that would determine standards for criminal election activities, firm up ballot privacy measures and better define voter intimidation.

Davis Hammet, founder of the voter advocacy group Loud Light, said Schwab’s legislative agenda could mean anything at this point, because the wording of Schwab’s agenda isn’t specific.

“It is sort of so generic that it can mean a lot of things,” Hammet said. “It can mean things that aren’t problematic at all, or it could mean things that are extremely problematic. And we’ll just have to wait to actually see that bill language.”

Kansas election security has been an increasingly controversial subject in the past few years, with Republicans on a national and local level denying the results of the 2020 elections and casting doubts on Kansas’ own election security.

Schwab has bucked this trend by repeatedly upholding the security of Kansas elections, including in the 2022 midterm elections. Other Kansas Republicans have called for more stringent voting security measures, despite a lack of evidence confirming widespread voter fraud.

Kansans have expressed discontent with recent more restrictive legislation and redistricting that many felt blocked voting access. Voters said 2021 legislation, specifically House Bills 2183 and 2332, blocked voting access.

HB2183 made it illegal for one person to deliver more than 10 advance voting ballots on behalf of other voters.

The bill also made handling a voter’s ballot a misdemeanor crime for people who aren’t election officials, unless it’s on behalf of a family member, and prohibits people from delivering advance voting ballots on behalf of other people without a signed written statement and signature verification.

HB2332 requires voters to have a residential address meeting certain requirements in order to register to vote.

Hammet said Kansas election laws had been damaged by recent election fraud fears, and he expects to see a continued distrust in the electoral process reflected in statewide legislation.

“We started making some modest improvements in election laws, really pro-voter improvements, until about two years ago, and then after the 2020 Big Lie, everything got bizarre,” Hammet said. “And I expect that to continue, unfortunately. I think there’s a lot of legitimate issues in Kansas election law that need to be addressed, but it’s going to be hard to address them when all the oxygen is taken out by sort of conspiracy theories like we’ve seen the last two years.”

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.