Despite GOP rift, Kansas lawmakers target ballot drop boxes
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservative Kansas lawmakers pushed ahead Tuesday with trying to eliminate most ballot drop boxes in elections, despite a split among top Republicans that could doom the conspiracy-driven effort.
A Kansas Senate committee voted 5-4 to approve a bill that would limit each of the state's 105 counties to only one drop box, only inside its election office and only when two people from different political parties are constantly monitoring the box. Counties currently can have as many drop boxes as elections officials want, and the secretary of state's office said 167 boxes were in use in 85 counties in last year's election, or one box for every 11,700 registered voters.
The bill's backers argue that restricting drop boxes will restore public confidence in Kansas elections, though there have been no reports of problems with them. Some Republicans continue to circulate baseless election conspiracy theories following former President Donald Trump's false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
The Kansas effort comes after Republicans' disappointing showing in last year's elections, particularly for election conspiracy promoters. State Sen. Jeff Longbine, an eastern Kansas Republican who opposed the drop-box limits, said he doesn't understand why the GOP is attacking something that voters find helpful.
“We have a certain segment of the Republican Party that's voting either as an independent or as a Democrat, and it's because of issues like this,” Longbine told reporters after the committee's vote.
Republicans have long enjoyed an advantage among registered voters in Kansas, and the Legislature has GOP supermajorities. But supporters of restricting or eliminating drop boxes altogether are likely to need two-thirds majorities to override an expected veto from Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who narrowly won reelection in November.
Earlier this month, election conspiracy promoters showed their clout within the Kansas GOP when its state committee narrowly elected election conspiracy promoter Mike Brown as state chairman through the 2024 elections. Brown wants to ban all ballot drop boxes and unsuccessfully challenged Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a vocal drop box supporter, in last year's Republican primary.
“Voter confidence in the integrity of our elections has definitely decreased over the years, and anything that we can do to create sort of a firewall against fraud — ahead of it, before it happens — I think is a good thing,” said state Sen. Alicia Straub, a Republican from central Kansas.
Republicans have a 7-2 majority on the Senate committee, but Longbine and GOP state Sen. Ron Ryckman Sr., from southwestern Kansas, joined the committee's two Democrats in voting no.
Schwab is backing another bill before the House to allow him to set standards for counties' use and monitoring of drop boxes. He told the Senate committee Monday during a hearing that its bill could force voters to rely on U.S. Postal Service delivery of mail-in ballots.
“Why in God’s green earth would you want the federal Post Office or the federal government in charge of your ballot?” Schwab said. “I got a Christmas card last week.”
However, the bill has strong support from Schwab's predecessor as secretary of state, Kris Kobach, who was elected Kansas attorney general last year. Kobach has long promoted the idea that election fraud is potentially widespread and argued in Monday's hearing that the bill would help stop “ballot harvesting.”
When Kansas Republicans use that term, they mean having one person deliver multiple ballots for other people to election offices. In 2021, GOP legislators limited people to returning 10 ballots for others, overriding a Kelly veto of the measure.
There haven't been reported cases of fraud in Kansas tied to third-party ballot deliveries, and voting-rights advocates believe the law hinders poor, older and disabled voters in getting their ballots delivered and counted.
But Kobach told the Senate committee Monday: “You have to decide, do we want to keep our crime against ballot harvesting? And if you do, do you want it to be enforceable or unenforceable?”
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John Hanna, The Associated Press