The Kansas Senate debated four election bills Feb. 22 banning use of ballot drop boxes, setting a tighter deadline for mail-in advance voting, permitting candidates for local nonpartisan offices to add party affiliation to ballots, and compelling write-in candidates to affirm their candidacy three weeks before an election.

Shawnee Republican Sen. Mike Thompson, among legislators fueling skepticism about election security in Kansas, presented Senate Bills 208, 209, 210 and 221 as necessary to improve efficiency, transparency and public confidence in the state’s voting system. Each gained traction despite repeated assurances by Secretary of State Scott Schwab, the state’s top election official, that voting was fair and secure in Kansas. 

Thompson, chairman of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, said voting was a privilege and people had a responsibility to work within the framework of state law to participate in elections.

Several senators raised questions about the legislative package touted by Senate GOP leadership, arguing the bills would disenfranchise the elderly and disabled people as well as individuals serving in the military and college students who rely on advance voting options.

“There is no issue being addressed here except to alienate people,” said Sen. David Haley, a Democrat from Kansas City vexed by consideration of a no-excuses 7 p.m. deadline for advance ballots.

Banning Drop Boxes

In its original form, Senate Bill 208 would have rationed ballot drop boxes in Kansas to a maximum of one per county, whether that was Johnson County with more than 600,000 residents or Greeley County with 1,200 people. 

The bill was crafted so the lone box for advance ballots would be placed inside the county election office. That box would be continuously monitored by two people of different political parties during office hours.

Tyson, the Republican, offered an amendment banning use of drop boxes statewide. It passed 22-16, with Republicans and Democrats voting against it.

No More Grace Period

Under Senate Bill 209, the three-day grace period for mail-in advance ballots would be repealed. That state law creating that buffer was adopted in 2017 by votes of 40-0 in the Senate and 123-1 in the House. It was a response to service changes by the U.S. Postal Service that were expected to slow mail delivery.

The Senate bill would set a hard deadline for all advance ballots at 7 p.m. Election Day, Thompson said. If the same provision had been in statute during the 2020 election, it would have blocked counting of 32,000 ballots statewide.

He said 30 states required absentee ballots to be received by election workers on or before Election Day.

Sen. John Doll (R-Garden City) said the uncertain pace of mail delivery argued against ending the three-day grace period. He said a letter mailed to his neighbor across the street in Garden City was processed at a Wichita postal station. In Elkhart, local mail was sent to Amarillo, TX, for processing. And in Tribune, local mail was forwarded to Denver for sorting.

Increasing Partisanship

The objective of Senate Bill 210 was to nullify city ordinances and county resolutions forbidding candidates for nonpartisan offices from including their party affiliation on ballots. Passage of the bill would let candidates for school board or city offices voluntarily have their political party membership displayed on ballots after July 1, Thompson said.

Sen. Jeff Pittman (D-Leavenworth) said enactment of the bill would preclude federal employees from being candidates for local office because the 1939 Hatch Act limited political activity of federal government employees.

“We have some fantastic people that are either retired military or current federal government workers who fill some important roles,” he said. “I feel like they contribute to our community and public service and this would disenfranchise a lot of folks in my community.”

“They self-eliminate on this particular situation. If they decide they want to take a job that is funded federally in part or in full they do so at will,” Thompson said.

Write-In Mandate

Under Senate Bill 221, write-in candidates for state and local elections would be required to file an affidavit before the election to confirm interest in seeking nomination and election to that office.

Write-in votes wouldn’t be counted if candidates for the Legislature, state Board of Education, district or magistrate judge, district attorney, county offices and first-class city offices failed to submit an affidavit at least three weeks from Election Day. It wouldn’t apply to township elections, Thompson said.

Thompson said the bill made sense because it would allow election workers to stop counting frivolous write-in votes for Fred Flintstone, Superman and others.