Polling places in Kansas are required by law to be open, but this year’s primary and general elections might see fewer in-person votes and more by mail. The latter is a safe and convenient option in the time of coronavirus, but comes with its own costs and challenges.
“The cost of envelopes, paper ballots, and postage will likely be significantly more than we budgeted for those purposes,” said Marion County Clerk Tina Spencer, who oversees elections for the county’s more than 7,500 voters and eight polling places.
Johnson County officials are shipping vote-by-mail applications directly to all registered voters. Election Commissioner Connie Schmidt said she hopes that will help prevent overcrowding or long lines at polling places.
Sending applications to its more than 400,000 registered voters will cost Johnson County an estimated $120,000. They’re hoping they’ll be reimbursed with federal funds, which were made available through the CARES Act. Of the $400 million nationally, Kansas will receive just under $4 million, Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab said.
That money will help cover safety measures for polling places, like hand sanitizer, disinfectants and protective gear, as well as the additional postage and processing that’s expected with extra mail-in ballots.
“We won’t be able to have as many voting machines in some of the locations as we’ve had in the past,” she told The Kansas City Star. “They will have to be spread out. That’s another reason why we’re encouraging people to vote by mail this time.”
For counties needing help, Kansas is launching a statewide campaign to recruit poll workers, especially young ones.
“You can be 16, 17 years old and still volunteer as a poll board worker,” Schwab said. “My son doesn’t know it yet, but my 16-year-olds will be working at the poll in the primary this year.”
Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said that after multiple asks, only 228 of nearly 2,000 current and former poll workers have agreed to work the elections.
Sedgwick and Johnson counties are the state’s two most populous, representing nearly 40% of registered voters. Lehman said they’re forming similar contingency plans, like moving election-worker training online. And Sedgwick County will follow Johnson County’s lead in sending applications to active registered voters.
Schwab said the state is also looking at drive-thru voting, which Missouri hopes to implement for its municipal elections in June.
“I’m a believer of (having) every opportunity and every way possible to vote that you can,” he said, “as opposed to a unilateral — you can only vote this way and no other way.”