Nearly a third of county voters request mail ballots

Andrew Bahl
Harvey County placed a secure ballot drop box, provided to the county by the state, at the  Newton Fire Station No. 3, 2500 S. Kansas Ave., Newton.  According to data released Monday by the Kansas Secretary of State's office, 21% of voters statewide have already requested a mail ballot for the Nov. 3 general election.

Mail ballot requests are at an all-time high — and Harvey County is a perfect example.

According to County Clerk Rick Piepho, there were 7,200 requests filed by Oct. 7 — representing more than 30% of registered voters in the county.

“The numbers are getting up there, crazy numbers. Crazy numbers for us,” Piepho said. “The primary was big for us, but this is way bigger. Four years ago we were at about half of that.”

The county received 5,500 requests for mail ballots for the 2020 primary election.

The county election office will begin mailing ballots to voters who have requested them Oct. 14. The deadline to request a mail ballot is Oct. 27.

Harvey County placed a secure ballot drop box, provided to the county by the state, at the courthouse and at Newton Fire Station No. 3, 2500 S. Kansas Ave. in Newton.

Almost 400,000 Kansas voters had requested a mail ballot as of Friday, according to data from the Secretary of State’s Office, a figure that is already more than the number sent out in 2018 and 2016 combined.

Roughly 21% of all registered voters in the state have requested a mail ballot, according to the data released Monday. In some counties, including Douglas, Johnson and Sedgwick, that number is as high as 35%.

The COVID-19 pandemic has fanned the record number of requests, which dwarf the roughly 200,000 voters who asked for a mail ballot in both 2018 and 2016.

The 398,455 voters who have thus far requested a ballot also is already higher than the number for the August primary. For that election, 315,095 residents asked for a mail ballot, with 83% actually returning it.

Voters have until Oct. 13 to register to vote, with county election officials set to begin mailing ballots the next day.

Residents have until Oct. 27 to request a mail ballot and it must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, and received by Nov. 6 in order to be counted.

In Shawnee County, 20,801 voters have requested a mail ballot, roughly 18% of all registered voters in the county.

That puts the county behind other population centers, including Douglas County, which leads the state with 35% of registered voters requesting a ballot.

Davis Hammet, president of voter engagement group Loud Light, said he was less concerned about the crunch in getting mail ballots sent out as what would happen when voters mail them back ahead of the election.

Because of this, he cautioned that hand delivering mail ballots was the way to go, either by using a ballot drop box, taking it to the county elections office or delivering it to a voter’s polling place on Election Day.

“The more people that do it that way the less ballots are in the mail so the ones that are in there are able to be processed faster,” Hammet said. “You just don’t have to worry about that part.”

Mail voting has been a subject of controversy, first due to President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the practice is fraudulent.

Experts refute his claims, noting that the overwhelming number of issues involving mail ballots result from them being returned late or by voters not following the instructions — not fraud.

But concerns began rising in August over delays at the U.S. Postal Service and whether that might discourage mail voting.

Few issues with ballots being delayed in the mail have been reported in Kansas, however, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said controversial changes to the postal service would be put on hold until after Nov. 3.

Other states have also had snafus as they quickly attempt to roll out a vote-by-mail system.

But Hammet expressed confidence in Kansas’ procedures and noted that the state’s experiences in previous elections had helped iron out most of the kinks.

“A lot of the mistakes that states are making right now, we’ve already made those mistakes,” he said. “We’ve made plenty of those mistakes and have made progress in fixing them.”

Chad Frey, of The Newton Kansan, contributed to this article.