Kansas House, Senate pass bills on ballot boxes, three-day grace period for advance ballots

Legislation may block some votes from being counted, critics say

By: and - February 23, 2023 12:54 pm
Kansas voters, including people using this Lawrence polling station, cast ballots Tuesday in races for U.S. House and U.S. Senate. For the first time, Lawrence residents are part of the 1st District stretching to the Colorado border. The shift devised by the GOP-led Legislature was to dilute influence of left-leaning Lawrence in congressional contests. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas House voted to end a three-day grace period for advance ballots, saying taking the window away would restore trust in the electoral process. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Election legislation meant to shore up public trust and transparency passed out of the Kansas House and Senate on Thursday, despite concerns that the bills would have a chilling effect on voters.

House and Senate lawmakers passed bills ending the three-day grace period for advance ballot collection 77-45, following Wednesday’s debate on the ethics of limiting the window. The vote marks a shift from 2017, when the House voted to create the three-day grace period for ballots with 123 voting in favor of the legislation. 

Senators voted 23-17 Thursday to do the same.

Republican proponents of the bill have said the measure will restore state residents’ trust in the electoral process, though the bill’s critics have said proponents are the ones undermining the electoral system in the first place.

Rep. Stephanie Sawyer Clayton, an Overland Park Democrat, said the current system should be kept.

“We believe that the best way to maintain trust in our election systems is by working under the current constructs, as opposed to undermining democracy itself through inflammatory rhetoric,” Sawyer Clayton said. 

Under the House bill, all advance ballots need to be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day, eliminating the 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. 

While the House was divided on ending the three-day grace period, legislation giving the Secretary of State more control over the electoral process was passed with no opposition.  House Bill 2086 and  House Bill 2087 would clear up Kansas election law confusion. HB 2086 would make Kansas county election officers the only officials responsible for planning, conducting, and coordinating elections within their counties, along with ensuring the elections comply with federal and state laws.

HB 2087 would require each political party to adopt procedures to select presidential electors. The names of the presidential electors would be certified to the Kansas secretary of state by Sept. 1 in presidential election years.

The Senate on Thursday also voted on a trio of election bills, including one banning ballot drop boxes.

Senate Bill 208 started as a measure that would have limited counties to just one drop box. Sen. Caryn Tyson offered an amendment on Wednesday to ban them outright, saying they allow for the possibility of “foul play.”

That legislation passed by a razor-thin, 21-19, margin. 

Senators rejected Senate Bill 210, which would have allowed candidates for nonpartisan offices to have their partisan affiliation included on the ballot. 

Sen. Jeff Pittman, D-Leavenworth, said the bill would not help “resentment in our electorate against current hyperpartisanship.” He noted his community has many federal employees who serve in local nonpartisan positions, which the measure could forbid.

And Sen. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park, said a county clerk who contacted her office said she found herself “shouting at the screen” during committee debate at some of members’ justifications for the bill. 

“This is a disenfranchising bill,” Holscher said, “and because of those reasons, I vote no.” 

Senators also passed Senate Bill 221, requiring write-in candidates to submit an affidavit confirming their interest in the office. Write-in votes would not be counted if the candidate failed to submit an affidavit three weeks before the election. 

During debate Wednesday, Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, said the bill would allow election workers to skip throw-away votes for fictional candidates.

The bill passed 29-7.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized a quote from Sen. Cindy Holscher. It has been updated.

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she’s covered state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and most recently was City Hall reporter for The Kansas City Star.

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.