Changes to Kansas election rules become law despite Governor Laura Kelly’s veto

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Katie Bernard
·3 min read
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Changes to Kansas election laws that limit the power of the executive and judicial branch and tighten rules around advance voting are now law despite Gov. Laura Kelly’s objections.

The Kansas Legislature voted Monday to override Kelly’s vetoes on two elections related measures.

The bills follow a trend in GOP-controlled statehouses nationwide to limit ballot access following unfounded claims of voter fraud during the 2020 election. Legislation in Washington to expand mail-in voting nationwide has stalled in the Senate.

Kelly rejected the Kansas bills last month, calling them “designed to disenfranchise Kansans.”

But lawmakers exceeded the two-thirds majority vote needed to pass the bills without her approval.

The override was one of several in the Legislature Monday as lawmakers acted swiftly to reject Kelly’s vetoes on issues from taxes to gun rights. Kelly issued 8 vetoes this year, more than any governor in the past 17 years.

Thus far, the Legislature has rejected five vetoes, more than they’ve overridden in at least the last 18 years.

Although the Kansas Secretary of State said Kansas had a “free and fair” election last year proponents of the bills say the policies are necessary to maintain election security and integrity in the future.

“Every single vote matters and the accuracy matters. This bill is not about voter suppression it is about voter accuracy and making sure every legal vote counts,” said Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican.

Opponents, however, say the measures will unnecessarily make voting harder while addressing a non-existent problem. They point to economic consequences in Georgia and other states that have pushed for election law changes.

“They will undoubtedly lead to years of costly taxpayer funded litigation and they are bad for business,” said Sen. Ethan Corson, a Johnson County Democrat.

During an event Monday Morning U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids called on Kansas lawmakers to sustain Kelly’s vetoes.

The measures are “moderate” compared to revisions in Georgia and other states that severely limit advance voting and increase voting-related criminal penalties, political scientists Patrick Miller and Lonna Atkeson said last week.

However, the largest impact would be on elderly and disabled Kansans. It will be a misdemeanor for anyone to return more than 10 ballots on behalf of other Kansans.

This will hinder the efforts of churches and other organizations who hold ballot drives and help elderly and disabled voters turn their ballots in.

House Bill 2332 prohibits the executive and judicial branches of government from altering election laws. It also prevents the Secretary of State from entering into consent decrees with a court without legislative approval.

The measures were triggered by decisions in two states pivotal to the 2020 elections.

One was the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to extend the due date for mail ballots. The other was a consent decree entered into by the Georgia secretary of state to establish standards for checking signatures on ballots. A lawsuit alleged that ballots of Black voters were being disproportionately disqualified.

The mail ballot bill also creates disclosure requirements for organizations distributing information about mail-in voting. It mandates the Secretary of State to maintain residential addresses in addition to mailing addresses of voters. It also creates new election tampering crimes.

The residential address requirements stem from an election fraud charge brought against former U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins who listed his home address as a UPS store.

House Bill 2183 focuses largely on mail-in voting. It limits who is permitted to return a mail-in ballot for another person and makes it a misdemeanor for one person to return more than 10 mail-in ballots. The measure also requires the signature on a mail ballot to match the signature election officials have on file, creating a potential for votes to be discarded, and bans the Secretary of State from extending mail-in vote deadlines.

The bill also makes it illegal to backdate a postmark on a ballot and bars election offices from accepting money from any entity other than the state for administering elections.

The Star’s Bryan Lowry contributed to this story.