Kansas lawmakers consider shortening duration of early voting period

photo by: Julie Denesha / Kansas News Service

A sign announces early voting for Douglas County residents in 2021 at the Douglas County Courthouse on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence.

Kansas voters would have less time to vote early in person under a bill being considered by state lawmakers.

Under current law, early voting is held until noon the Monday before an election. But a bill being discussed by the House Elections Committee would end early voting by 7 p.m. the Sunday before Election Day.

Clay Barker, general counsel at the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office, said at a hearing on Wednesday that some county election officials – especially in smaller counties – struggle to staff early voting the day before Election Day.

“This can create a problem at counties where people are trying to vote at the same time the county election staff is trying to prepare for Election Day on Tuesday,” he said.

But critics say the change could confuse or disenfranchise voters, especially if implemented during an election year.

“We do oppose this bill, just simply because it reduces the number of days that are required for early voting,” said Cille King, of the League of Women Voters of Kansas.

Rick Piepho, Harvey County clerk and election officer, said many counties would be relieved not to host early voting the Monday before Election Day. But he also said it’s often a popular time to vote.

“About 10% of our total (early) in-person voters (in Harvey County) vote in that four-hour period on Monday,” he said.

Some critics of the bill suggest that if early voting would no longer be held on Monday, counties should be required to host it the Saturday or Sunday before an election. The bill, as currently written, leaves that up to the discretion of county election officials.

Piepho said some counties already host early voting the Saturday before Election Day, but it’s not consistent across the state.

“We’ve done that for a number of years in Harvey County,” he said. “I don’t know the numbers on how many counties are currently open on Saturday, but I think a lot of them are. Different hours – some may only be open for a couple hours.”

The state’s budget office said the bill would financially impact county election offices that choose to be open on the weekend, as they would potentially have to pay election workers overtime. Cost estimates range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars per county.

Multiple speakers at the hearing also expressed concerns that the bill, as written, could shorten the time frame that people have to return advance ballots for which they applied. Those ballots are currently allowed to be delivered up until Election Day.

Some lawmakers on the House committee said they didn’t believe the bill was intended to make that change.

“(That) is a serious drafting error that needs to be corrected to eliminate the confusion,” Democratic Minority Leader Vic Miller said.

— Daniel Caudill reports on the Kansas Statehouse and government for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service.


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