Kansas House debate on election security showcases GOP split over voter fraud theories

Bill requiring advance ballots to be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day leads to fierce House debate

By: - February 22, 2023 3:27 pm
Rep. Vic Miller said there was no evidence of voter fraud in Kansas elections during a Feb. 22, 2023 House debate. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. Vic Miller said there was no evidence of voter fraud in Kansas elections during a Feb. 22, 2023, House debate. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas Republicans are once again divided on voter fraud and election security, wrangling over whether mail-in ballots could be trusted during a House discussion on state election laws. 

Rep. Pat Proctor, a Leavenworth Republican, said a bill tightening laws on mail-in ballots would restore Kansans’ faith in elections. Proctor spoke in support of House Bill 2056 Wednesday, referencing Arizona’s Maricopa County as an example of how a slow counting method sowed doubt.  Ballots there were rumored to have not been counted in the midterm election. 

“There’s nothing more fundamental to our system of government than confidence for the voters, that the results of the election reflect the will of the people,” Proctor said. “Anything that we can do to improve that confidence I think is a public good, a policy good and something that we should be trying to do.” 

The bill would require all advance ballots be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day, eliminating the three-day window currently in place. The restriction would apply to advance voting ballots received by mail, in the office of the county election officer, the satellite election office, any polling place or a county-maintained election drop box. 

Critics of the bill have said it will have a chilling effect on voting and would also discount legal votes. The bill is one of several election measures supported by Kansas Republicans who believe that Kansas elections are at risk of voter fraud

While many Republicans at the national and local level have denied the results of the 2020 election, casting doubt on election security, Secretary of State Scott Schwab has bucked this trend by consistently defending the security of Kansas elections. During a Monday discussion about restrictive drop box legislation, Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach showed up to support the bill, clashing with Schwab, who spoke against the legislation. 

The bill would limit drop boxes, allowing only one per county and housing the drop box inside each county’s election office, where it would be continuously monitored by two individuals of different political parties. 

“We’ve been really vocal on supporting drop boxes,” Schwab said, saying most of the concerns Kobach mentioned came from other state’s electoral processes.

Kobach said election fraud was happening and drop boxes helped perpetuate the fraud. 

“It is happening in Kansas, it is recent,” Kobach said about ballot fraud schemes, with Schwab stepping up to the lectern to contradict him immediately afterward.

During the Wednesday debate, House Minority Leader Rep. Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat who sponsored the 2017 three-day window legislation, also spoke against voter fraud conspiracies. Miller said the Kansas voting system was secure and the legislation pandered to election deniers. 

“This idea that people have lost confidence in elections is because we have a bunch of loonies running around saying it was … fraud without a single bit of evidence to support that case,” Miller said. “But yes, if you repeat an incorrect statement often enough, unfortunately, some people begin to believe it.”

Rep. Kenneth Collins, a Mulberry Republican, spoke against the bill, referencing the 2017 House vote that created the three-day grace period for ballots. The House voted in favor of the window by 123-1 and the Senate by 40-0. 

“There was only one person in the House that opposed it, and I’m sure they had their reasons, but everybody came together and voted reasonably on that date,” Collins said. “I would hope that we can continue that three-day grace period, which in my opinion is very reasonable for both sides.” 

The House voted to advance the legislation. Democrats asked for a roll call vote on the bill, but were told they didn’t get the request in on time. 

The bill was part of a trifecta  of election legislation heard Wednesday, along with House Bill 2086 and  House Bill 2087. Those bills would give the Secretary of State’s office more control and clear up Kansas election law confusion. HB 2086 would make Kansas county election officers the only official responsible for planning, conducting, and coordinating elections within their counties, along with making ensuring the elections comply with federal and state laws.

HB2087 would require each political party to adopt procedures to select a presidential elector. The names of the presidential electors would be certified to the Kansas Secretary of State by Sept. 1 in presidential election years.

Both bills were reported favorably for passage.

Correction: Rep. Pat Proctor used Arizona’s Maricopa County as an example of voter doubt. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described his reference to Maricopa County.

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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.