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Despite the GOP rift, Kansas lawmakers are targeting the ballot box

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Conservative Kansas lawmakers pressed ahead Tuesday as they sought to eliminate most of the ballot boxes in the election, despite a split among top Republicans that may doom the conspiracy-led effort.

A Kansas Senate committee voted 5-4 to pass a bill that would limit each of the state’s 105 counties to just one dropbox, only within its electoral office, and only when two people from different political parties are constantly monitoring the box. Counties currently can have as many mailboxes as election officials want, and the secretary of state’s office said 167 mailboxes were in use in 85 counties in last year’s election, or one mailbox for every 11,700 registered voters.

Supporters of the bill argue that limiting mailboxes will restore public confidence in Kansas elections, although no problems with them have been reported. Some Republicans continue to circulate unsubstantiated 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 a disappointing performance by Republicans in last year’s election, particularly for campaign conspiracy theorists. State Sen. Jeff Longbine, a Republican from eastern Kansas who has opposed drop box limits, said he doesn’t understand why the GOP is attacking something that voters find useful.

“We have a certain segment of the Republican Party that votes as an independent or as a Democrat, and it’s because of issues like this,” Longbine told reporters after the committee vote.

  • Kansas State Senator Alicia Straub, R-Ellinwood follows a Kansas Senate committee on a discussion that would limit counties to having ballot boxes only in their polling offices, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Straub says such a restriction would restore voter confidence in the Kansas election. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

    Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS/John Hanna

    Bryan Caskey, left, director of state elections in the Kansas office of the secretary of state, and Clay Barker, right, office general counsel, argue during a Kansas Senate committee discussion on a bill that would clear the ballot box outside the county polling offices, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a two-term Republican, is a vocal supporter of mailboxes and opposes the bill. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

    Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS/John Hanna

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    Republicans have long enjoyed an advantage among registered voters in Kansas, and the Legislature has a GOP majority. But supporters of restricting or eliminating mailboxes altogether are likely to need a two-thirds majority to override an expected veto by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who narrowly won re-election in November.

    Earlier this month, election conspiracy promoters showed their influence within the Kansas GOP when its state committee narrowly elected election conspiracy promoter Mike Brown as state president during the 2024 election Brown wants to ban all polling boxes and unsuccessfully challenged Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a vocal supporter of polling boxes, in last year’s Republican primary.

    “Voters’ confidence in the integrity of our elections has definitely declined over the years, and anything we can do to create some sort of firewall against fraud — early, before it happens — I think is a good thing,” he said Sen. Alicia Straub, Republican from central Kansas.

    Republicans have a 7-2 majority on the Senate committee, but Longbine and GOP state Senator Ron Ryckman Sr., from Southwest Kansas, joined the two Democrats on the committee in a no vote.

    Schwab is supporting another bill before the House to allow it to set standards for counties’ use and monitoring of mailboxes. He told a Senate committee during a hearing on Monday that his bill could force voters to rely on the United States Postal Service to deliver ballots in the mail.

    “Why in God’s green earth would you want the federal post office or the federal government to handle your vote?” Schwab said. “I received 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 voter fraud is potentially rife and argued in Monday’s hearing that the bill would help stop the “collecting of ballots.”

    When Kansas Republicans use that term, they mean to have one person deliver multiple ballots for other people at the polling offices. In 2021, GOP lawmakers restricted people from returning 10 ballots for others, overriding Kelly’s veto on the measure.

    There have been no reports of third-party delivery of ballot fraud in Kansas, and pro-voters advocates believe the law hinders poor, elderly, and disabled voters from receiving and counting ballots.

    But Kobach told the Senate committee on Monday, “You have to decide, do we want to keep our crime against ballot collection? And if you do, do you want it to be enforceable or unenforceable?


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

    Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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