County adding mail ballot signature scanner

Chad Frey
Election officials are expecting slower days at the polls for the 2020 election, but record numbers of mail and advance ballots as the nation continues to try and slow the spread of pandemic COVID-19.

The Harvey County Election Office is purchasing a new piece of equipment to speed up the mail voting process within the clerk’s office — a computerized piece of equipment to analyze the signature on advance ballot envelopes.

“We have to verify that the signature on file matches to the envelope,” said Rick Piepho, county clerk. “This system puts them side by side.”

The system will mark signatures that do not match and allow for further inspection of advance envelopes by staff if needed.

At a cost of $18,000, the county commission approved a purchase that will be the first of a few purchases from an independent grant awarded to the county this month.

The Center of Tech and Civic Life awarded a grant of more than $67,629 to the Harvey County Clerk’s Office to use for elections.

Piepho said the funds will be used mostly for election equipment for tabulating results and signature verification.

Tuesday the county commission approved acceptance of the grant, and the first purchase using those funds.

The clerk’s office will purchase equipment to scan and verify signatures on the envelopes containing mail ballots. Piepho has used the equipment in the past.

“There are very few companies that offer this. I had this piece of equipment in here for a month to test it to see if it would do everything we wanted it to do with the hardware and software,” Piepho said.

Mail ballots, which the county will begin sending to registered voters who have requested them on Oct. 14, are “checked in” when received by the clerk’s office — whether that is by mail or dropped off in person by voters at the courthouse.

Those envelopes are inspected, with the signature checked against what is on file for the registered voter to see if they match. The new digital equipment will scan and check signatures against what is on file in the clerk’s office to assist the clerk’s office to verify the envelope was signed by the registered voter to whom it was sent.

“We check them in as having been received. The ballots remain in the envelopes until we are ready to start counting them,” Piepho said.

The clerk’s office is expecting the 2020 election to be a record-setting year for mail ballots as voters look for ways to mitigate the risk of COVID-19.

The clerk’s office sent out vote-by-mail information and a registration reminder Sept. 19 and expects mail ballots to hit record numbers. That day, there were more than 5,500 requests for advance by mail ballots — in the August primary the clerk’s office fielded 5,553 requests.

“It is going to be a busy election. We are doing everything we can as normal as possible. We have put in personal protection. Vote by mail is probably the easiest if they have (COVID-19) concerns,” Piepho said.

In Kansas, a mail ballot must be postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day and received in the clerk’s office no later than three days after the election in order to be counted.

In Kansas, the voter registration deadline for the upcoming election is Oct. 13, while the deadline to request a ballot by mail is Oct. 27. County election offices will begin mailing ballots to registered voters who request them on Oct. 14.

The county is adding an election dropbox at Newton Fire Station No. 3, the result of the state giving the county two dropboxes for use in the 2020 election.

Kansas voters can check their status, whether a mail ballot has been requested and when it will be mailed online at “Voter View,”

Harvey County is expecting record numbers of vote by mail filings this year and is adding new computer equipment to scan and verify signatures of voter by mail envelopes.