Opinion: Kansans must protect their votes

Kansas voters have the power to protect their own votes. Plan ahead. Choose the voting method that works best for you. Act early. Act responsibly. Advocate for yourself.

What are your voting options?

In-person Election Day voting: Poll worker shortages could make lines longer this year, increasing your COVID-19 exposure risk. Will your wait be mercifully short and sanitary or long and uncomfortably crowded? In-person voting still has problems that threaten your ballot, but it’s familiar and comfortable for many voters. Plus, it avoids challenges unique to mail voting.

In-person early voting: You might have lower COVID-19 risk here since early voting lines are often shorter than Election Day lines. Great option if you prefer the familiarity of in-person voting.

Voting by mail: Low COVID-19 risk, secure and convenient. However, mail voting introduces certain challenges.

In 2016, nearly 25% of voters nationally voted by mail, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Election officials rejected nearly 320,000 of those ballots — about 1%. Already in 2020, over 500,000 mail ballots have been disqualified nationally in primaries, per National Public Radio.

Those rejections mostly stem from voter error, especially among first-time mail voters. Using the wrong color ink. Using a pencil if a pen is required. Stray ballot marks. Not signing the return envelope. Signing the ballot rather than the envelope. Using a different signature than the state has on file. Missing postmark and return deadlines.

Mail voting only works if done correctly. Following the directions is solely the voter’s responsibility, though in Kansas local election officials are supposed to help voters fix those signature issues.

How can Kansans mail vote confidently?

First, apply for your mail ballot now. The deadline is Oct. 27. Apply at www.ksvotes.org, or print an application from the Kansas Secretary of State website. Election officials start mailing ballots to voters on Oct. 14. Applying online before Oct. 14 would be your best bet.

Second, vote your ballot immediately upon arrival. Read the directions. Mark your ballot. Prepare your signed return envelope. Use stamps if necessary.

Third, return your ballot on time. In Kansas, mail ballots must be postmarked by Election Day (Nov. 3), and delivered to your county election office by the close of business on Friday, Nov. 6. Procrastinating risks missing deadlines.

Beware: You are responsible for your ballot while the Postal Service has it. If it’s postmarked on time but arrives at the election office late, then your ballot won’t count. Returning your ballot immediately gives it three weeks to arrive. Plenty of time! To be safe, assume your ballot will take a week to reach the elections office. The latest that I would mail a ballot locally is Friday, Oct. 30.

Luckily, Kansans who procrastinate can also return mail ballots in person rather than mailing them. Google your county elections office. Ask them where to find secure ballot drop-off boxes and how early they are accessible. You can also return mail ballots at any voting location in your county on Election Day itself or before at early-voting locations in your county.

If you still have your mail ballot on Oct. 31, return it in person. Don’t risk mailing your ballot that late.

Also, ask if your county has an online ballot tracker. Use it to check that officials received your ballot.

Choose wisely and act responsibly, Kansas!

— Patrick R. Miller is an associate professor of political science at the University of Kansas.


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