Red tape delays law to make voting easier in Kansas

photo by: Ashley Golledge

A sign outside of the Carnegie Building encourages Lawrence residents to vote in the general election Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

WICHITA (AP) — A Kansas law designed to allow voters to cast their ballots at any polling place in their county, instead of just their assigned voting precinct, may not be implemented until 2023 because of bureaucratic delays.

Passed in 2019, the law directed Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab to write the rules and regulations to implement it, but with no deadlines on when he had to act, The Wichita Eagle reports.

Officials in Sedgwick County, who championed the measure through the legislative process, had hoped to have the rules in place for the 2020 election cycle. But they’re only now coming up for approval by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Rules and Regulations.

“That’s not good,” said Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat who sponsored the measure. “That kind of defeats the whole purpose.”

She said every election she hears from constituents who work at aircraft plants south of the city and couldn’t make it back to northeast Wichita before the polls close.

Schwab’s office declined to comment before the regulations are considered at a meeting. Schwab previously has told The Eagle that he had a group working to write the regulations as rapidly as possible. But it’s complicated by cybersecurity issues and because state rules have to apply to everybody, not just tech-savvy counties.

“We believe in the spirit of the law, we want to implement the law, but not in a way that makes people doubt the outcome of the election,” Schwab said a year ago.

One reason the law may not take effect more quickly is a prohibition in the proposed regulations on implementing so-called vote centers, where any county voter could cast their ballot, during an election in an even-numbered year. Counties could do that only in an odd-numbered year when only local offices are on the ballot and turnout is generally lighter.

Election officials also would have to present a detailed plan to the secretary of state six months in advance of an election in which they want to start using vote centers.

The earliest the new rules could be approved is Feb. 16, after a public comment period and hearing. That would be too late to file a plan for vote centers for this year’s Aug. 3 primary.

“That kind of means we won’t be doing it this year,” said Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman.

The next opportunity will come in August 2023, four years and nine months after the legislation was signed into law.

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