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Kansas ballot boxes need to be more secure, lawmaker says, comparing issue to 9/11 – The Lawrence Times

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Lawmakers debate allegations of voter fraud, “electoral mules” conspiracy theory.

TOPEKA— Election officials have debunked ideas of so-called campaign mules placing dozens of votes in mailboxes, reassuring lawmakers on Tuesday that the boxes are already safe during a hearing filled with election security concerns and misinformation.


During a House Election Committee hearing, House Bill 2057 was opposed by a slew of election officials, and voting rights advocacy groups questioned the need for the legislation. They included Loud Light, the Disability Rights Center of Kansas and the Kansas African American Affairs Commission.

Safe deposit box security

The legislation would impose strict rules on remote ballot boxes. County polling offices with a population of less than 30,000 would be permitted to use only one remote ballot box per election. For county polling offices in areas with more than 30,000 people, one additional box would be allowed for each additional group of 30,000 people. The remote booth should be under continuous observation by an employee or via video, and closed when the polling office is closed.

The video recording should be positioned to record the faces of people dropping ballots in the ballot box, and the recording should be held for one year, available for public record, among other provisions. Critics of the bill say it’s unnecessary, would block Kansas citizens from their Democratic right to vote, and would prove costly for local election offices, which pay for elections.

Mike Taylor, who spoke on behalf of the Kansas County Commissioners Association, which represents elected commissioners in all 105 counties, said the organization opposed the legislation on many grounds and believed it would hurt voter privacy.

“We oppose this bill because we think it will deprive many, many voters who depend on easy access to those mailboxes,” Taylor said. “We also think it will add a lot of unnecessary expense to counties and taxpayers.”

The only person who spoke in favor of the bill at the meeting was an out-of-state speaker, Madeline Malisa of the Opportunity Solutions Project.

When asked if there was any evidence of ballot box tampering in the state, Malisa said she hadn’t heard of anything in Kansas, but thought the lack of evidence might be due to a lack of video surveillance of the ballot box.

Rep. Kenneth Collins, R-Mulberry, asked county election officials if they had heard of “mules” harassing people trying to lose votes. Committee vice chairman Rep. Paul Wagoner, a Republican from Hutchinson, also talked about mules, a conservative term for people paid to vote illegally.

“I think part of the concern that it’s kind of led bills like this has been part of the whole notion of what are called mules, in regards to whether somehow someone is going to fill a ballot box similar to, you know, there was a documentary called ‘2,000 Mules that came out a year ago,” Wagoner said.

“2,000 Mules,” a debunked film by right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza, falsely claims that there was significant voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election. The filmmakers have been sued for defamation.


Election officials said they were unaware of any problems with mailboxes during the 2020 and 2022 elections, either in terms of people attempting to tamper with the boxes or in terms of voting security.

Rep. Cindy Neighbor D-Shawnee questioned the need for additional security at the polls.

“From our secretary of state, it doesn’t appear that we’ve had any problems with them,” Neighbor said. “And the ones we’re seeing are extremely safe. And that’s why I wanted clarity on how it was happening in Kansas.

Other voting laws

Stacey Knoell, executive director of the Kansas African-American Affairs Commission, said she was one of 14,917 people who cast their ballot via drop box in Johnson County during the 2021 election.

Knoell said she opposed the bill and other recently introduced laws, such as House Bill 2056, which would require all early ballots to be returned by 7:00 p.m. on Election Day, eliminating the three-day window currently in effect.

“I think it’s part of the government’s job to make voting as accessible and fair as possible for people who need to vote,” Knoell said. “I want to reiterate what another speaker said: if we take this bill together with other bills, we are only making it more difficult to vote for various reasons. We don’t have an extended three day period. I just object to the moral standing we need to make it easier for people to vote in this country.”

HB 2056 was voted on at the meeting and garnered enough votes to pass favorably out of the committee, despite some objections from lawmakers.

The neighbor said she believed the bill would harm foreign soldiers who did not receive their ballots on time, through no fault of their own, and believed it harmed constitutional rights.

Another bill considered at the hearing was better received. House Bill 2053 would authorize the secretary of state to adopt rules and regulations for returning early ballots to remote polling stations.

The secretary of state will use existing resources to provide procedural training to county election officials, work with the public to ensure awareness of remote ballot box requirements, and include dates, times and locations for mailbox protocol.

The legislation was backed by Secretary of State Scott Schwab’s office, with staffer Clay Barker saying the regulations would provide physical security standards for safe deposit boxes, chain of custody, disabled access and they will protect county election officials by ensuring they have met the proper standards for the drop-out procedure.

Election officials and a spokeswoman for the League of Women Voters of Kansas also said they supported the bill, as it would clear up the confusion and provide better guidance.

Barker said he hoped the regulations could also alleviate election security concerns.

“There’s concern out there about mailboxes, ‘2,000 mules,’ ballot collection, and this is one way to answer it,” Barker said.


The big lie

Many Republicans nationally and locally have denied the 2020 election results, calling into question election security. Schwab bucked this trend by repeatedly stressing the safety of Kansas elections, even in the midterm of 2022.

Other Kansas Republicans have called for tighter vote security measures despite a lack of evidence for widespread voter fraud. The proposed voting restrictions have drawn criticism from groups who say many of the new bills would disenfranchise voters.

When asked if he was concerned about voter rights, committee chair Pat Proctor, a Republican from Leavenworth, said he was trying to walk the line between addressing vulnerabilities in the system and making the voting process more difficult.

Proctor also said lawmakers needed to find new ways to inspire voter deniers to trust the system again.

When asked why additional ballot box security was needed, he compared the problem to 9/11 and said there is nothing stopping people from throwing chains around mailboxes and hauling them away with truck.

“Well, you know, September 11, 2001, I bet people really wished they’d locked the airplane cabins on September 10, but it was too late,” Proctor said. “If we’ve identified the vulnerabilities, it’s ridiculous that we won’t try to address them until we have proof they were exploited during the election.”

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