County election officials in Kansas say more registered voters would participate in elections if they could receive an advance ballot by mail without regularly asking for one.


The officials support a change in Kansas law that would allow voters to sign up to receive advance ballots by mail for every election. Proposed legislation would halt the mailings if the voter doesn’t cast a ballot in two consecutive elections.


“Basically, it just means that those people who continually fill out a form for every election because they like to vote at home, it allows them to fill out one form, and then we automatically mail them their ballots,” said Rick Piepho, the Harvey County clerk.


Piepho testified Thursday before a Senate committee to offer support for the legislation on behalf of the Kansas County Clerks and Elections Officials Association. He anticipated the change would have no impact on county finances because the cost to mail additional ballots would be offset by savings from reducing paperwork and poll workers needed on election day.


Rich Vargo, the Riley County clerk, said expanding the opportunity for permanent advance ballots will make voting more convenient, increase participation for all elections and ease congestion at polling places.


Vargo said his county received 1,304 advance ballots for the presidential election in 2016. Two years later, he mailed applications for advance ballots to registered voters and received 3,272 in response — even though fewer people participated in the 2018 election overall.


Advance ballots are “a huge benefit to the constituents,” Vargo said.


“The reason we don’t have large voter participation in elections other than the federal is just due to convenience,” Vargo said. “In my personal opinion, polling places are an antiquated process for elections.”


Kansas already mails advance ballots for individuals with permanent disabilities, and Vargo said there are safeguards in place that prevent people from voting twice.


Katie Koupal, deputy assistant secretary of state, said the proposal would result in more ballots being returned by mail to local election offices as undeliverable because voters fail to update their registrations when they move. She asked the committee to consider adding unspecified provisions in the bill to account for secure handling of mailed ballots.


The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, the Kansas Association of Counties, and the National Vote at Home Institute offered support for the proposed legislation.


Nadine Johnson, executive director of ACLU Kansas, said Kansas should "encourage citizen participation in elections through simple, common-sense reforms.“


“Permanent advance voting works,” Johnson said. “It is not a novel, untested concept in elections. Its effectiveness is documented in other localities across the country.”