Legislature approves limits on ballot collection

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The Kansas Legislature on Monday overrode Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a bill that limits how many ballots a third party can deliver to election offices for someone else.

The House voted 85-38 to override the governor’s veto of the bill while the Senate voted for the bill 28-12.

The House had been four votes short headed into the start of the wrapup session but won support after it gained five Republican votes on Monday.

Several Republicans – Reps. Dave Baker of Council Grove, Mark Shreiber of Emporia, and John Wheeler of Garden City – supported the bill after initially voting against the legislation on April 8.

Reps. John Barker of Abilene and Ron Howard of Wichita didn’t vote the first time but supported the bill on Monday. Howard, who has been seriously ill, was in the statehouse in a wheel chair for Monday’s votes.

The bill was intended to prevent candidates from collecting ballots in mass – sometimes called “ballot harvesting.”

They said the bill was intended to safeguard against the possibility of a campaign volunteer tampering with a ballot returned on someone else’s behalf.

However, Democrats and voting rights advocates said the bill was nothing more than an effort to keep voters from casting ballots.

“The impact is clear,” said Democratic state Rep. Mary Ware of Wichita. “I can’t imagine anybody that thinks there wouldn’t be fewer voters.

“They are making it harder to vote. It is simple as that,” Ware said.

Republicans didn’t see it that way.

“This bill contains a number of common-sense reforms that will add to the security and fairness of our elections in Kansas,” said Republican state Rep. Blaine Finch.

“This bill closes the loophole that allows for the harvesting of ballots, the collection of dozens or, even hundreds, of ballots by an individual,” he said.

Finch noted that the Kansas law would fall in line with what’s allowed in other states and is not as onerous as states that outright ban third parties for delivering ballots for someone else.

“This bill strikes a balance between allowing for the assistance of those who may be older, those who may be disabled who may not be able to turn in their ballot and allowing a free for all of collecting dozens, or hundreds, of ballots and deciciding which ones get counted,” he said.

The bill limits to 10 the number of ballots that could be delivered to an election office by a third party, which would curtail efforts to collect ballots in mass.

Democratic state Rep. Brett Parker of Overland Park said that the bill would make it  a criminal offense to sucessfully turn in a ballot.

Parker said when the House committee held a hearing on the proposed limits on ballot collection, it was overwhelmingly opposed by outside groups.

“I cannot imagine a more disrespectful process to the public who we invited to  comment on parts of this (and) told us unanimously that this is bad legislation that punishes people for successfully turning in ballots,” he said.

“This is not what we got elected to do,” he said.

“We should be making it easier for people to legitimately vote. Turning in ballots successfully should not be made a crime.”

A violation of the law is a misdemeanor.

The bill also:
  • Bars candidates for office from delivering an advance voting ballot on behalf of another voter unless it is on behalf of an immediate family member.
  • Prohibits candidates from assisting any voter in marking an advance ballot or signing an advance ballot form.
  • Prohibits county election officers from accepting an advance voting ballot sent by mail unless they verify that the signature on an advance voting ballot envelope matches the signature on file in the county voter registration records.
  • Creates the crime of falsely representing an election official, which could include conduct that would lead someone to believe they were an election official. Critics said this provision could lead to Kansans being charged with a crime just by helping someone register to vote.