Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab said Tuesday that his office wasn’t in a position to require voters to wear masks when they head to the polls, although he urged residents to "be safe" and follow local public health guidance.


This mirrors similar instructions Schwab relayed ahead of the August primary, although it comes at a time when mask-wearing mandates have increasingly divided residents and local governments across the state.


The Secretary of State’s Office won’t wade into those disputes, Schwab told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.


"You can’t say you have to wear a mask any more than you can say you have to wear a shirt," he said. "The law is very clear on that."


Still, he cautioned voters that the most expedient thing to do was follow local public health guidance, lest disagreements break out at polling places between those on opposing ends of the mask debate.


"If you want to have that mask fight, Twitter is probably a better place than a polling line," Schwab said.


On the first day of advance in-person voting in Shawnee County, virtually all voters appeared to be wearing face masks in compliance with local mandates, a pattern that has largely been duplicated in counties across the state.


Poll workers likewise appear to be using personal protective equipment, although The Associated Press reported that poll workers at an Ellis County site weren’t wearing masks.


The state spent over $1 million of its allotment of federal COVID-19 relief dollars on kits sent to each polling place, which includes personal protective equipment and other mitigation supplies, such as plexiglass partitions to separate poll workers from voters.


As of Tuesday morning, 482,797 requests for mail ballots had been received, with most of those already mailed, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.


A little over 46,000 voters have already returned their mail ballots and roughly 31,000 Kansans have taken advantage of in-person advance voting, which is up and running in most counties.


Meanwhile, a printing error affected roughly 4,000 ballots in the Kansas Senate District 40 race, where the race was incorrectly labeled as being for the U.S. Senate.


The issue appears limited to ballots in Ellis County, the biggest county in that district, and Schwab said local officials were working to reprint the ballots.


Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus said the issue was discovered midday Friday and new ballots were expected to arrive Wednesday, with advance in-person voting resuming the next day.


"I assure the voters that even voting the incorrect verbiage, it will be tallied correctly," she said.


The incumbent, Sen. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, said he was only informed of the issue Tuesday morning.


"It was an honest mistake and somebody just missed it," he said.


Larry Dreiling, the Democrat in the race, referred questions about a potential legal challenge to his attorney but said his campaign was taking the issue as it comes.


But the lawyer, John Bird, said the situation was "intolerable" and noted there were other deficiencies with the ballots and said that the decision to cancel advance voting for those days was "cavalier."


"It is a nightmare situation because of incompetence," Bird said.


He contended that a legal challenge would be fruitful.


"A candidate who is looking to have a good, fair, well-run election would have a complaint," Bird said.


Schwab said that any legal challenge would only likely come into play if the margin of victory was about 4,000. Billinger won by 15,000 votes in 2016 in what is a heavily Republican district.


Schwab said he was pleased with voter turnout statewide and that his office was "not surprised" about the intense demand for advance voting.


Many entities are encouraging those who request a mail ballot to return it in one form or another.


If voters abandon their mail ballot plans and go to the polls in person, they will vote via provisional ballot, which will only be counted after it is assured a mail ballot wasn’t also returned.


Schwab also said voters should take advantage of drop boxes if possible rather than mailing in their ballot. Voters also can return their ballot to the county elections office or to their local polling place on Election Day, he said.


"Your ballot is not insured," he said. "It is your responsibility."