Proposition 1 brochures removed from County Treasurer’s Office counter after citizen complains

photo by: Nick Krug

A brochure advocating for the passage of Proposition 1 to expand the Douglas County Jail and to improve behavioral health services sits on a counter at the Douglas County Treasurer's office on May 7, 2018. The treasurer's office is directly across the hall from where voters can turn in mail-in ballots on the issue.

County Treasurer Paula Gilchrist on Monday had Proposition 1 brochures removed from the counter of the Douglas County Treasurer’s Office after a resident objected to their presence just across the hall from where voters can drop off mail-in ballots for the contentious referendum on jail expansion and mental health services.

Gilchrist said she removed the brochures at the request of County Clerk Jamie Shew. She said they had been available on the counter since the county had them printed four to six weeks ago. The brochures make the case for voting yes on the referendum without specifically directing a yes vote. Monday’s complaint was the first that employees in the office said they had heard since April 25, when the County Clerk’s Office placed a drop box on its counter for voters choosing to hand deliver the mail-in ballots.

On April 25, signs were posted on the County Courthouse doors and near the drop box stating that electioneering within 250 feet of the courthouse entrance was prohibited. Although Shew asked Gilchrist to remove the brochures, he said they did not violate electioneering bans because the content was informational and did not instruct readers to vote for or against Proposition 1.

Bryan Caskey, director of elections for the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office, said there was no statutory reason for the county to remove the brochures. The Kansas statute banning electioneering near polling sites doesn’t apply to mail-in ballot drop boxes, he said, because there is no actual place to vote. That is different from when advance voting stations are set up near ballot drop boxes for primary or general elections, he said.

“It’s not a polling place,” Caskey said. “There’s definitely a law on electioneering near a polling site, but it doesn’t apply in an all mail-in election.”

If voters approve Proposition 1, they would authorize a countywide half-cent sales tax increase. The estimated $9.8 million that the tax would raise annually would fund a $44 million expansion of the county jail, an $11 million behavioral health campus, $5.1 million in additional behavioral health services and $1 million of the $6.1 million needed annually for increased jail operational costs.

The deadline to return Proposition 1 ballots to the clerk’s office is noon on May 15.