Kansas election officials threw out more than 6,000 ballots in the 2018 general election that were cast by individuals who were eligible to vote.
Davis Hammet, a voting rights advocate, has a simple way to fix that.
When someone isn’t properly registered to vote — they missed the deadline or neglected to change their address — and shows up at a polling site on election day, they already fill out a registration form and cast a provisional ballot. After the election, officials process the registration and place the ballot in a discard pile for canvassers.
Hammet’s proposal: Count their vote.
“We have all these little piecemeal things that make a messy election law, or we can just say if you're eligible to vote, you can vote and your vote was counted,” Hammet says.
The idea is basically an end-around to install election-day registration in Kansas. Current law requires voters to sign up 21 days before an election.
A Senate panel on Friday blunted legislation that would make Hammet’s plan a reality. The committee passed a watered down version that only applies to individuals who neglect to update their registration when they move from one county to the next.
Hammet remains hopeful his original idea will get some attention.
"Most Kansans would be shocked to learn that over 6,000 votes weren't counted when Kansas recognizes that they're eligible to vote,“ Hammet said. ”Who knows how high that number's going to be in the 2020 election?“
Hammet’s proposal received support from county clerks who serve as election officers, as well as faith leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas.
The secretary of state’s office opposes the idea because it conflicts with the state’s voter registration deadline.
“We would be remiss if we did not alert you to the significant administrative burden this would place on local election officials,” said Katie Koupal, deputy assistant secretary of state. “Current state law does not accommodate same-day voter registration due, in part, to the inability of election officials to verify the eligibility of persons applying to register to vote. In addition, voters could be less likely to register to vote prior to an election if they know they can just show-up and have their ballot counted.”
Koupal also pointed out that Secretary of State Scott Schwab was sued last week for failing to implement a 2019 election law in time for this year’s elections. She encouraged lawmakers to wait a year before making drastic changes.
County election officials who support Hammet’s proposal say it would have little effect on their operations because they already have to process provisional ballots.
"It's a pretty intensive process, but this bill doesn't change that for us,“ said Rick Piepho, Harvey County clerk. ”We currently process them anyway, even the ones we know are going to be rejected."
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said election officials already have to research things like whether a prospective voter is registered somewhere else.
"The only difference is you count it versus not count it,“ Shew said. ”It's not a burden because we're already doing the process.“
In the 2018 general election, Kansas election officials rejected 7,692 provisional ballots for a variety of reasons. About 3,800 were from individuals who voted in the wrong jurisdiction. Another 2,300 were from individuals who weren't registered.
About 500 didn't present photo identification, and about 300 didn't sign the envelope containing their ballot.
Another 161 ballots were tossed because the voting deadline had passed, 83 were tossed because they already voted, and four were tossed because the voter was deceased.
The ballots of 330 individuals were rejected for "unsure" reasons, according to data from the U.S. Election Assistance Committee.
Hammet is the president of Loud Light, which promotes civic engagement in Kansas. He successfully sued for the release of records relating to 900 provisional ballots that were tossed by Johnson County officials during the August 2018 primary, when Kris Kobach defeated Jeff Colyer by 343 votes statewide for the GOP nomination for governor.
By easing restriction on those who cast provisional ballots, Hammet said, the state would add a safeguard against bureaucratic errors and the possibility of a cyberattack on polling books.
“The only thing that changes is the vote is counted as long as the voter was qualified to vote at the voting location and there’s no other reason to reject it,” Hammet said.