Mar 04, 2023

INSIGHT: Bills restricting ballot collection are unpopular with Kansans

Posted Mar 04, 2023 11:30 AM

Voter suppression bills are once again making their way through the state legislature.

The justification — or lack thereof as the case may be — for these bills lies with the unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud made during the 2020 election.

Legislation like these could be warranted if they were being passed to increase election security. But they’re not. Recent elections in Kansas have been as safe and secure as they have ever been.

Hundreds of post-election audits have been conducted across the state since 2020, and not a single failure has been uncovered.

Republican Secretary of State Scott Schwab has been an outspoken critic of measures that would restrict the state’s ability to collect ballots from voters, causing a rift between top Republican officials in Kansas.

But ever since 2020, questioning election integrity has become a political dog whistle in statehouses across the country.

A majority of Kansans don’t seem to be buying it.

The 2022 Kansas Speaks public opinion survey conducted by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University last fall asked questions about perceptions of voter fraud and election integrity in our state.

The survey found that only 11 percent of respondents thought fraudulent voting decides elections in our state and about the same number (12 percent) thought state and local officials commit election fraud to alter outcomes.

These results suggest that even if Kansans possibly believe one-off incidents of voter fraud are common — there is little evidence to support this, only a handful of cases have been found in the past decade — they do not believe there widespread systemic fraud that alters election results

Despite little popular support, state legislators are perpetuating these false claims by introducing legislation that restricts voters’ ability to cast a ballot.

Senate Bill 208 would modify state law on use of ballot drop boxes. In its original form, it would have limited each county to a single dropbox — severely impractical for the state’s largest counties like Johnson and Sedgwick.

SB 208 was then amended to eliminate the use of ballot drop boxes altogether, despite no reported problems with their usage.

In the Kansas Speaks survey, less than one-third of Kansas voters thought ballot drop boxes should be banned.

Senate Bill 209 eliminates the current three-day grace period for accepting mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day.

Research shows that mail-in voting is disproportionately used by elderly, disabled, military, and college student voters and therefore restricting when mail-in ballots can be accepted would disenfranchise these voters specifically.

The harm done by these bills is far greater than any credible “justification” legislators could have for supporting them.

Passing these bills would be a shortsighted move by the state legislature. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, let alone voter fraud related to drop boxes and mail-in ballots; there is a lack of popular support for these measures among Kansans; and there isn’t even partisan consensus that these actions are necessary.

Election security is of utmost importance, but our elections are secure and getting more so every year. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security continuously strengthens our election infrastructure ensuring our protection.

These bills only make it harder for eligible Kansans to have their ballot counted.

Free and fair access to the ballot is what allows citizens to have a voice in their government. It is a vital element of democracy.

Kansans should be concerned that the state legislature is actively trying to suppress that voice. 

Alexandra Middlewood, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of Political Science at Wichita State University.