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Kansas House debate on election safety showcases GOP divided over theories of voter fraud

TOPEKA – Kansas Republicans are once again divided on voter fraud and election security, arguing over whether they can trust mail-in ballots during a House debate on state election laws.

Rep. Pat Proctor, a Republican from Leavenworth, said a bill tightening mail-in ballot laws would restore Kansans’ confidence in elections. Proctor spoke Wednesday in support of House Bill 2056, citing Arizona’s Maricopa County as an example of how a slow counting method has sowed doubt. Ballots were said not to have been counted in the midterm elections.

“There is nothing more fundamental to our system of governance than trust in voters, that election results reflect the will of the people,” Proctor said. “Anything we can do to improve that trust, I think is a public good, a political good and something we should be trying to do.”

The bill would require all advance ballots to be returned by 7pm on Election Day, eliminating the three-day window currently in effect. The restriction would apply to early voting ballots received in the mail, at the county Election Officer’s office, at the satellite Election Office, at any polling station, or at a county-operated ballot box.

Critics of the bill have said it will have a chilling effect on voting and would also discount legal votes. The bill is one of several campaign measures supported by Kansas Republicans who believe Kansas elections are at risk of voter fraud.

While many Republicans nationally and locally have denied the 2020 election results, questioning election security, Secretary of State Scott Schwab has bucked that trend by consistently defending Kansas’ election security. During a Monday discussion on the restrictive dropbox legislation, Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach showed up to support the bill, clashing with Schwab, who spoke out against the legislation.

The bill would limit mailboxes, allowing only one per county and housing the personal mailbox within each county’s election office, where it would be continuously monitored by two people from different political parties.

“We’ve been really vocal about supporting drop boxes,” Schwab said, saying that most of the concerns Kobach mentioned came from other states’ electoral processes.

Kobach claimed that voter fraud was taking place, and mailboxes helped perpetuate the fraud.

“It’s happening in Kansas, it’s recent,” Kobach said of the voter fraud plans, with Schwab approaching the lectern to contradict him soon after.

During Wednesday’s debate, House Minority Leader Rep. Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat who sponsored the 2017 three-day window legislation, also spoke out against voter fraud conspiracies. Miller said Kansas’s voting system was secure and the legislation pandered to voter deniers.

“The idea that people have lost faith in the election is because we have a bunch of nutcases running around saying it was…a fraud without a single piece of evidence to support that case,” Miller said. “But yeah, if you repeat an incorrect statement often enough, unfortunately, some people start to believe it.”

Rep. Kenneth Collins, a Mulberry Republican, spoke out against the bill, referring to the 2017 House vote that created the three-day grace period for voting. The House voted in favor of the window by 123-1 and the Senate by 40-0.

“There was only one person in the House who objected, and I’m sure they had their reasons, but everyone came together and voted reasonably on that date,” Collins said. “I hope we can continue that three-day grace period, which I think is very reasonable for both parties.”

The House voted to advance the legislation. Democrats called for a roll-call vote on the bill, but were told they had not received the request in time.

The bill was part of a trifecta of election legislation heard on Wednesday, along with House Bill 2086 and House Bill 2087. Those bills would give the secretary of state’s office more control and clear up confusion about Kansas’ election law. HB 2086 would make Kansas County election officials the sole officer responsible for planning, conducting, and coordinating elections within their counties, as well as ensuring that elections comply with federal and state laws.

HB2087 would require each political party to adopt procedures for selecting a presidential elector. The names of presidential electors would be certified to the Kansas Secretary of State by September 1 in presidential election years.

Both bills have been flagged for approval.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Proctor used Maricopa as an example of election fraud. Proctor said the county was an example of voter doubt.

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