Douglas County clerk answers residents’ questions about election, mail voting

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Jamie Shew has served as the Douglas County Clerk since 2004. He is currently in his fourth term of office. He is pictured outside the Douglas County Courthouse on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020.

With election day nearing, Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew told the Journal-World that his office has been working to dispel misinformation that has been getting to voters.

As residents are being asked to cast their general election ballots during a global pandemic, Shew has answered questions from Journal-World readers to ensure they get accurate information.

Many of the paper’s readers had questions about advance mail voting this year, which has been a popular choice among county residents. Shew previously told the Journal-World the county saw a massive increase in the amount of mail ballots during the August primary elections. That trend has continued into the general election as well.

Shew’s office announced on social media that the county sent out a record of more than 29,000 mail ballots on the first day of early voting, which began on Wednesday. The office will likely send out more before the election because registered voters have until Oct. 27 to request one.

Additionally, Shew told the Journal-World that the county saw an increase in the number of residents registering to vote. He said, as of Thursday, the county had counted a total of 81,749 county residents who have registered to vote. That’s an increase of about 3,000 from the August primaries, when Shew told the Journal-World that the county had about 78,000 total registered voters.

He also noted that the number will likely increase, as his office is still processing voter registrations that were filed on Tuesday, which was the final day to register.

“A presidential year election always has a larger than normal increase in registrations and that is what we have experienced this year,” Shew said.

Despite the pandemic and an increase of mail ballots, voters may still vote in person. Shew’s office opened four advance in-person voting sites on the first day of early voting, also a record, to help with the increased desire to cast ballots. Shew’s office has a schedule of locations and times when voters may cast advance in-person ballots on its website, douglascountyelections.com.

With the pandemic still posing a threat to the public, Shew said those locations have taken precautions to protect voters and poll workers. Some of those precautions include taking steps to minimize direct contact between voters and poll workers, providing poll workers with personal protective equipment and setting up physical distancing guidelines, among other things.

But there are still details readers wanted clarity on, which Shew provided. Here are Shew’s answers to reader questions:


Q: If we already requested an advance mail ballot before the August primary, but would now prefer to vote in person instead, is that possible? If so, what is the process?

Under Kansas law, a voter who has been issued an advance ballot may vote in-person as a provisional voter. The law requires a provisional ballot to protect against double voting and to maintain integrity of the audit systems. This applies even if a voter hands over the unvoted ballot they received in the mail; they would still be required to be provisional. The voter can mark their ballot, place it in the envelope, sign it and turn it over to a board worker if they want to be witnessed as voting in-person.


Q: When will advance mail ballots be mailed out? Will it be immediately after the Oct. 27 deadline?

Kansas law states ballots cannot be mailed before 20 days prior to an election. We mailed ballots starting on Oct. 14, from that point we set a goal to mail ballots within one day of receipt of the application in our office. Applications received on Oct. 27 will still need to be processed, confirmed and audited before mailing, so those ballots would be mailed on Oct. 28. This is why we strongly encourage not waiting until the deadline.


Q: How do I physically turn in an advance ballot if I choose not to mail it? Where do I go? What are the office hours? Does my advance ballot need to be notarized? Do I need to stand in line? Do I need to put the ballot in the envelope, seal it and sign the envelope?

There are multiple options for returning a ballot physically. There are 10 drop boxes located in the county which will be checked twice daily and are being monitored for security. They will be open until 7 p.m. on Election Day, which is Nov. 3.

A ballot can also be walked into any advance voting location. Those sites, dates and times are listed on our website, douglascountyelections.com or dgcoks.org/advancevote2020. We were able to get the law changed to allow an advance ballot to be returned to any polling place on Election Day, and it does not have to be delivered to the voter’s assigned voting location.

Advance ballots do not need to be notarized. Those are laws which apply to other states. The ballots must be signed.

The voter does not need to stand in line. There are advance ballot drop locations inside each voting place. It is extremely important that the ballot is inside the envelope, sealed and signed. Any ballot that is dropped in a drop box without an envelope will not be counted. We must have the signed envelope to do the signature check and to assign voter credit. Each advance envelope is recorded to make sure no voter can double vote, therefore a ballot without an envelope does not give us the ability to log that voter in the database.


Q: Is there a map of the advance mail ballot drop box locations? How will these boxes be protected?

There is a map of the drop box location at douglascountyelections.com and a full list of locations at dgcoks.org/advancevote2020. It is part of the new elections hub of maps and information. The locations were chosen not only for convenience but for security. Each box will be checked daily and have security equipment which will record all activity around the boxes. Tampering with a box will be a felony, and we will use the recordings to investigate any incident.


Q: If I voted by mail in the primaries in August, will I automatically be sent an advance ballot? How do I find out whether I am signed up to vote by mail in November?

Kansas requires a new application for an advance ballot for each election. There is not an application which can be used for multiple elections. Kansas does have a permanent advance application which automatically mails a ballot for each election, but it is limited to only voters who are unable to get to a polling site due to medical reasons. Our website has a “voter lookup” feature where a voter can enter their name and birthdate to access their voter record. Next to the advance ballot section, it will give the date an application has been accepted or it will say “request a ballot” if there is no application on file.


Q: I requested an advance mail ballot, but I’m worried I may not receive it. If I do not receive my ballot what are my options for voting on Nov. 3?

There are a few options for voting if a ballot is not received. Our office can issue a replacement ballot that can be sent through the mail or delivered to the voter, or the voter can go to any in-person location to vote. In both of these cases, the replacement ballot or in-person ballot will be provisional to protect from double voting.


Q: How many mail-in ballots were received in the August primary? How many of these were rejected? Of those rejected how many were rejected for signature problems? And how many arrived too late to be counted? How many voters whose ballots were rejected were notified? When are returned ballots counted?

A total of 17,858 ballots were returned in the primary election.

One ballot was not counted because of no signature. Seventeen were not counted because they were signed by another voter, the incorrect envelope was signed or the signature did not match. Twenty-six were not counted because they were received after Election Day and did not have a postmark or any mark which indicated they had been mailed correctly. And 35 were received by the Friday deadline but had postmarks after Election Day. Of the ballots that arrived after the Friday deadline, 16 were received in the week after but had postmarks prior to or on Election Day, and 17 were received in the week after Aug. 7 but had postmarks after Election Day.

Our office has an extensive outreach program so all voters who need to have something fixed, like needing a signature or verifying a signature, are contacted multiple times. If a voter is unable to come to the courthouse to correct a signature issue, we have teams which will go to the house of the voter to get a corrected signature. Ballots that are returned are first logged and assigned to a voter, then they go through a signature verification process and the following day they are processed by an independent board that audits the previous day’s acceptance report to the physical envelope.

After going through audits, the ballots are separated from the envelopes. Envelopes are retained for two years and stored by batches if we need to verify information. Kansas law allows ballots to be scanned into the system at any time prior to the election but results and tabulation cannot occur until after 7 p.m. on Election Day. Our office attempts to scan the ballots soon after receipt so there is an electronic record of the ballot in the case of an emergency which could damage the physical ballot. After 7 p.m. we start the tabulating process. This process is why the first set of results from Douglas County are the advance ballots.


Q: Will my advance mail ballot be counted if I do not sign it exactly as I did on my registration form? I cannot remember if I spelled out my middle name or used my middle initial.

Recognizing signatures varies at times. Our office uses techniques to look for commonalities which indicate it is the same voter. Additionally, we have multiple examples of signatures presented to our office so we are not just comparing with one signature.

If there is a question about a signature, our office will reach out to the voter for verification or updating the signature. It is false that a ballot will automatically be rejected because of a signature question without the voter being allowed to correct the situation.


Q: What are the requirements for people to sign the appropriate place on the envelope of an advance mail ballot if they are allowing another person to turn in their mail-in ballot?

Section 1 of the envelope is the signature of the voter. Section 2 of the envelope is where the voter authorizes someone to transport their ballot or acknowledges they assisted the voter in some way. The voter checks the box authorizing the person and the person providing assistance must fill out Section 2, including signing the envelope in addition to the voter. Section 3 of the envelope is where someone may sign on behalf of the voter who is physically unable to sign the envelope. All of these are legal statements.


Q: My father is 97 now and some days struggles to sign his name. What do I need to do in case he wants me to sign his mail-in ballot for him?

Section 3 of the envelope outlines how to assist your father in signing his envelope.


Q: My husband died in June 2020 and did not vote in the August primaries. Should I contact the clerk’s office to let them know before the election in November?

Our office utilizes the state’s vital statistics daily downloads, which tracks recorded deaths, and clips obituaries from newspapers. If someone is deceased and we have not received information from our sources, federal law states we need documentation to remove a voter. So, a copy of a death certificate, obituary or death notice can be used to notify us.


Q: Does the clerk’s office still need poll workers for Election Day, advance voting sites or for processing ballots and checking signatures? If so, how can one volunteer? Has the county worked with local high schools to get student volunteers, as I understand is being done in other states?

The community has really stepped forward to assist us with volunteers. Currently we have more board workers than can be assigned. If someone wants to volunteer, the application can be found on our website under “become an election worker.” Yes, we work with local high schools and have a number of student workers for every election.


Q: When are the votes counted based on when ballots are submitted? For those who are voting through advance mail or early in-person voting, are those ballots counted on the day of election, or are they counted later on?

Election night will include advance results up to 7 p.m. and polling place results. Properly postmarked advance ballots will be added the three days after the election. All of these results are unofficial and do not result in the election of any candidate until after the certification canvass on Nov. 16. The accepted provisionals will be added to those results during the canvass which will make up the actual official results. Statewide results are not official until after the state canvass a few weeks after the county canvass.


Q: According to media reports, President Donald Trump’s campaign has used “poll watchers” at election sites. If they come to Douglas County, will they be required to wear masks, and will they be prohibited from interfering with the voting process?

Kansas has a poll agent process which must be followed for someone to be an official observer at a polling place. A poll agent may only be appointed by a specified list of people. Those appointments are filed with the county clerk who issues official poll agent badges.

There are rules for poll agents, including what is allowed and not allowed and they are required to wear their badges while in the polling place. Any unauthorized poll agent would not be allowed to stay in a polling place unless authorized. The rules for a poll agent specifically indicate they cannot interfere with the process at any point Due to the constitutional protections for voters, we cannot require masks for voters although it is strongly suggested. At this time, we have not received legal guidance on if we can require a mask for a poll agent.


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