ACLU says some Kansas counties hinder voter aid efforts

November 3, 2018

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Some county election officials in Kansas are undermining nonpartisan efforts to help voters at polling sites who may be having problems voting, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas said Friday.

Its Kansas Election Protection Program helps voters who encounter obstacles at polling sites such as finding their names are not on voter rolls or who may be confused about such things as voter ID requirements, provisional ballots or finding their correct polling location. The ACLU wants to put up signs near polling places with a phone number people can call for help.

State Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued an Oct. 22 opinion saying that such nonpartisan voter assistance programs that are within 250 feet of polling places do not constitute “electioneering” for candidates and are therefore allowable. But the ACLU says some county clerks not following the attorney general’s opinion.

But the attorney general’s decision came down too late for them to mobilize on-site election volunteers to help voters at polling locations across the state during the Nov. 6 general election, something the group did during this year’s primary election, said Ellen Glover, field director for the ACLU of Kansas.

Most of the pushback to its Kansas Election Protection Program is in Johnson County, the state’s most populous county. Other counties that have pushed back on the voter assistance efforts have included Lyon County as well as Ford County, where the sole polling site for Dodge City voters has drawn national attention.

“We don’t know why some of the county clerks and poll workers are so opposed to people getting help when they encounter problems voting,” Glover said, adding its election hotline and the observers deployed during the primary simply ensure votes from eligible citizens are counted.

Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker said he was trying to maintain a “clear zone” free of any distraction outside the polling site entrance, not to harm any organization.

“We are talking 250 feet — after that it is a free country,” Metsker said.

Metsker sent an Oct. 30 letter to the ACLU telling them they cannot post signs with the voter help hotline number within 250 feet of any polling location or on county property because of the possibility of electioneering by the person being interviewed.

Rather than get into “a petty fight” over the distance, the ACLU plans to have volunteers in Johnson County post the voter assistance hotline number on signs that are more than 250 feet away from polling places, Glover said.

They have volunteers who will be posting signs with hotline number near polling sites at 15 counties. ACLU does plan to have volunteers helping voters in Dodge City during next week’s election.