Senate Democrats on Wednesday battled unsuccessfully against a package of bills they said suffocated voting rights by limiting the delivery of ballots to election offices on behalf of someone else.
Republicans are taking aim at the so-called practice of “ballot harvesting” where there have been some mentions of candidates collecting dozens of ballots on behalf of voters and delivering them to election offices.
The Senate voted 28-12 for the package of bills rolled into one piece of legislation.
Democrats said that allowing ballots to be delivered on behalf of other voters was nothing less than ensuring that Kansans can exercise their right to vote.
They said the bill turned neighbors helping neighbors into felons.
“As legislators and leaders, one of our highest goals should be to protect Kansans’ rights rather than take them away, and this bill does exactly that,” said Democratic state Sen. Mary Ware of Wichita.
“You can use a pejorative word like ‘ballot harvesting’ all day,” Ware said. “The fact is this is just helping people make sure that they get to vote.”
Republicans steadfastly supported the legislation, saying the bill was intended to end the practice of so-called “ballot harvesting” where candidates or their campaigns deliver dozens of ballots to election offices.
Republicans have said that allowing anyone other than the voter to handle ballots presents an opportunity for wrongdoing in the democratic process.
Republican state Sen. Larry Alley wanted to eliminate the possibility of so-called “ballot harvesting” in Kansas, although one senator said she received a report of one candidate collecting 100 ballots from voters and delivering them to the election office.
“What we want to do is not have those type of allegations here in Kansas,” Alley said.
“We want to have safe, secure, fair and transparent elections,” he said.
Republican state Sen. Carolyn McGinn condemned “ballot harvesting” but said the legislation should protect voters confined to independent living centers without transportation.
“I believe ballot harvesting is bad,” McGinn said. “I believe it is something that should have never happened. I’ve been reading for two decades how this happened.”
McGinn said she wished lawmakers could figure a way to punish the “bad actors” involved in “ballot harvesting” without hurting others without transportation.
Democrats quizzed Republicans about allegations of election wrongdoing, saying they were ambiguous and lacked evidence.
“We keep hearing these vague things that ‘I heard this there,’ somebody whispered in my ear did this, somebody told me that they were concerned about that,'” said Democratic state Sen. Ethan Corson of Prairie Village.
“I’m a lawyer. I would just like to see evidence of these things,” he said.
“I’m just wondering why they are always in kind of hushed voices and whispered into the ears of certain elected officials but they’re never brought to light,” he said.
Republican Sen. Caryn Tyson of Parker said she found Corson “offensive” because of comments he made insinuating that she had no evidence of vulnerabilities in the voting system.
Tyson cited an instance of one candidate who delivered 100 ballots on behalf voters and another case where duplicate ballots where sent out in one county.
She pointed to another example where a candidate had petititoned to get on the ballot with two signatures of people who were dead.
“I find it completely offensive that he insinuated anything I said was not accurate,” Tyson said. “I do not lie. I do not insinuate.
“If this was a hearing, I absolutely would have brought people up to testify that these items occurred,” she said.
The bill bars candidates from delivering an advance ballot on behalf of another voter unless it’s for an immediate family member.
The bill prohibits anyone from delivering an advance ballot on behalf of someone else, unless the person submits an accompanying written statement signed by the voter and the person delivering the ballot.
It also prevents an individual from delivering more than five advance voting ballots on behalf of other voters during an election.
A violation of those provisions would be a level 9 nonperson felony, which carries a presumptive sentence of probation.
The bill also include these provisons:
- Prohibits county election officers from accepting advance mail ballot unless
they verify the signature on the envelope with the signature on file in the county voter registration records. If a signature didn’t match, the ballot wouldn’t be counted.
- Prohibits candidates from assisting voters in marking advance ballots or signing an
advance ballot form.
- Prohibits election officials accepting outside money for running an election.
Democrats tried to add several amendments to the bill:
- Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City tried to require county election officers in Wyandotte, Johnson, Shawnee and Sedgwick counties to be elected. They are now appointed by the secretary of state. The Senate ruled the amendment was not germane.
- Ware unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill so it would eliminate the so-called “ballot harvesting” portion of the bill. It was voted down 25-11 with one pass and three senators not voting.
- Corson tried to amend the bill to lengthen the period of time that advanced ballots could be mailed out from 20 days to 30 days. Corson’s amendment was defeated 25-11 with four senators not voting. He noted that the average length of time nationally for mailing out advance ballots before the election was about 37 days.