Kansas election officials and activists are concerned with the high number of people who requested mail ballots showing up at polling places to cast in-person ballots instead.
These voters are directed to fill out a provisional ballot, which complicates the process for election workers who are already overwhelmed with unprecedented early turnout and social distancing constraints as a result of the pandemic. The provisional ballot will be counted a week after the election, when local officials verify the individual hasn’t voted twice, but won’t be included in election night results.
Johnson County opened 10 early voting locations Saturday and processed 7,562 votes, of which 1,011 were provisional. Another 739 provisional ballots were cast on the second day of early voting in the county.
Connie Schmidt, the Johnson County election commissioner, said almost all the provisional ballots were cast by those who had previously requested a mail ballot. A lot of people were impatient, because they hadn’t received their mail-in ballot.
If you haven’t received your ballot by now, you should call your local election office.
For those who have requested a mail ballot, filling it out and dropping it off rather than showing up to vote in person speeds up the process of certifying election results, said Leslie Mark, the Kansas team lead for Indivisible KC, which is working to engage people in the voting process.
She said provisional ballots are not bad but will not be counted until the county canvass, which in Johnson County begins Nov. 9, the Monday after the election, and may last until Nov. 17. A substantial number of provisional ballots could change the outcome of a close race.
If voters are concerned about the status of their advanced ballot, they can track it online, Koupal said. Voters who are not sure whether they requested a by-mail ballot can contact the Secretary of State’s office or their local election office.
“If you wish to vote in person that is absolutely fine, but to prevent people from casting multiple votes you will be given a provisional ballot,” Koupal said.
Secretary of State Scott Schwab said if someone requests a mail ballot, decides to cast a provisional ballot in person, and then also sends in the mail ballot, only the mail ballot will count.
Schwab reiterated this week that voters cannot be denied an opportunity to vote because they aren’t wearing a mask, but he encouraged all to wear a mask and maintain a safe distance
“Just to keep the peace in the process, obey your local health officials,” Schwab said. “Be safe out there. Wear a mask if you’re being requested to wear a mask just so you’re not creating a brawl.”
The secretary of state’s office has provided poll workers with personal protective equipment kits and plexiglass shields to provide an extra layer of protection.
Despite how the increased distance may make things appear, Koupal said locations with a large turnout — like Johnson County, Sedgwick County and Shawnee County — are reporting quick-moving lines.
Davis Hammett, president of Loud Light, a group that promotes election participation, said these long lines do pose some concern for overall turnout.
“There are some people who, it’s like arranging the transportation, getting the time off work — all of that can be a big barrier,” Hammet said. “So I would say if you do want to avoid that, you do still have time to request a mail ballot, but you need to do so now.”
The deadline to apply for a mail ballot is Oct. 27. Mail ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, and received at the local election office by Friday, Nov. 6.