John Hanna
Kansas government and politics reporter
APjdhannajdhanna@ap.org

GOP moving to end Kansas grace period for mail-in ballots

March 3, 2022 GMT
Kansas state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, reacts to a Senate committee's approval of a bill that she opposes that would tighten state elections laws at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., Thursday, March 3, 2022. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
Kansas state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, reacts to a Senate committee's approval of a bill that she opposes that would tighten state elections laws at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., Thursday, March 3, 2022. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
Kansas state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, reacts to a Senate committee's approval of a bill that she opposes that would tighten state elections laws at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., Thursday, March 3, 2022. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
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Kansas state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, reacts to a Senate committee's approval of a bill that she opposes that would tighten state elections laws at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., Thursday, March 3, 2022. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
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Kansas state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, reacts to a Senate committee's approval of a bill that she opposes that would tighten state elections laws at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., Thursday, March 3, 2022. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican lawmakers moved ahead Thursday with trying to end a three-day grace period for Kansas voters to mail in their ballots, advancing a measure that one voting-rights activist called “madness.”

A GOP-dominated state Senate committee approved a bill that would require all mail-in ballots to arrive by 7 p.m. on Election Day, limit the use of ballot drop boxes and give people three fewer days before an election to register to vote. The measure goes next to the full Senate.

The push for tighter election laws in the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature is part of a nationwide effort by GOP state legislators. Much of it is tied to former President Donald Trump’s false claims that fraud cost him the 2020 election, but many Republicans for years before that had questioned election security, despite lacking evidence of widespread problems with fraud.

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The Kansas Senate committee’s action was significant because Republicans had struggled to persuade even some GOP lawmakers that giving voters three extra days to mail in ballots was a problem. A House committee last month killed a proposal to end the grace period.

“It’s madness, right?” said Davis Hammet, president of the voting-rights group Loud Light. “This is an attack on democracy.”

Trump’s false claims — including attacks on mail-in ballots and drop boxes — have taken deep root within the GOP. A July 2021 poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that roughly two-thirds of Republicans continued to say that President Joe Biden was illegitimately elected. Republican lawmakers regularly use such mistrust to justify tightening election laws.

In Kansas, the Senate committee handling election proposals heard an hour of testimony last month from witnesses promoting baseless, fringe election fraud conspiracies.

But one supporter of its bill, Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, a conservative Republican from southeast Kansas, said he was worried about elections security well before the 2020 election. Committee Chair Rob Olson, a conservative Kansas City-area Republican, said people worried more about election issues during the coronavirus pandemic.

“And I don’t think it’s a bad thing, having concerns,” Olson said.

Olson drafted much of the bill that emerged from his committee. He told fellow committee members that he wants “to get back to Election Day being Election Day.”

“I just don’t want the ballots hanging out there for two or three days,” Olson said.

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The bill would allow voting in advance to begin 23 days before an election, rather than the current 20, something Olson said he proposed to address the concerns of opponents ending the post-Election Day grace period. That prompted him to also shift the voter registration deadline back three days, to 24 days before an election.

Olson also said legislators should establish “secure” policies for the use of drop boxes, rather than letting each county set its own. The bill approved by his committee would limit counties to one box for every 30,000 registered voters, require boxes to be monitored and bar them from accepting ballots when regular elections offices are closed.

At the end of the committee’s meeting, Democrat Oletha Faust-Goudeau, of Wichita, the Senate’s only female black member, threw up her hands in exasperation. She said later that the measure would make it harder to register and to vote and create confusion among voters.

“I don’t just advocate for Black and brown people. People with disabilities, senior citizens. Some people still don’t have vehicles yet, and they have to take the bus,” she said. “I just had a Blindness Awareness Day at the Capitol on Tuesday, and this will hurt them.”

When the House Elections Committee rejected eliminating the three-day grace period last month, several GOP members noted that it was enacted in 2017 because the number of U.S. Postal Service mail-processing centers had decreased so that mail was taking longer to arrive.

“It’s probably only gotten worse,” said Rep. Jesse Borjon, a Topeka Republican who used to work in the Kansas secretary of state’s office.

The Senate committee’s bill would limit all but the state’s five most populous counties to a single drop box.

“We just continue to harm the folks that we’re supposed to be serving,” said Brandon Johnson, the Wichita City Council’s only Black member, adding that lawmakers seem intent on making voter turnout “as low as possible.”

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna