TOPEKA, (KSNT)—Two election bills are advancing in Kansas with some opponents arguing that the proposals would suppress votes in upcoming elections expressing their concerns in a floor debate on Wednesday.
The Republican-controlled Senate recommended both bills be passed. One bill aims to limit the executive branch’s power in changing election laws. Opponents argue that this would hinder action being taken in emergency situations.
“I think the people of Kansas deserve better than this,” Senator Ethan Corson, a democrat from Fairway who rose in opposition to the plan, said.
The bill would require the governor or other members of the executive branch to seek approval from the Legislature or Legislative Coordinating Council (LCC), before modifying any election procedure. This also applies to entering an agreement with any party, or a state or federal court, regarding the enforcement of election law.
Corson proposed sending the bill back to committee, arguing that the bill was not prepared to be heard, following a lack of written testimony and other resources provided on the Kansas Legislative website.
“My understanding from a number of groups was that the notice of the hearing was not properly posted on the bill page of the Kansas Legislative website, so a lot of groups have reached out and said that they did not even know that this hearing was happening, so they weren’t able to provide opponent testimony to this bill,” Corson said.
Corson also mentioned a time when the state entered a consent decree when Kansas was in violation of the National Voter Registration Act. He said the ability of the Governor to enter into that consent decree “was a good thing.”
“One, it brought us into compliance with federal law, and two, entering into that consent decree, actually saved us the time and the legal expense of having to go to court, and litigate this for years, and spend taxpayer dollars in litigation,” Corson said.
Republican senators defended the committee process, and offered other ways to access committee testimony from that day, such as video recordings online. Proponents of the bill said this will prevent the Governor from modifying election laws or procedures without approval from the Legislative branch.
“I think this is a good policy,” Sen. Robert Olson, R-Olathe, said during a debate on the floor. “The Legislature is in control of election laws, so I think it’s always good when the Legislature’s part of the process.”
“CLEANING” VOTER ROLLS
Another bill dealing with voter roll maintenance received pushback from several voting rights groups in the state, during a hearing. Some referring to the process as “Voter Purging” in written testimony.
Senate Bill 439, would require county election officers to send a confirmation notice to people who have “no election related activity” for any four calendar year period. This includes people who haven’t voted or attempted to vote.
The bill was introduced on behalf of the Secretary of State’s Office, which testified in support of the proposal. According to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Clay Barker, who provided testimony, the plan would help with ongoing voter roll maintenance.
“SB 439 provides county election officers an additional tool to ensure voter rolls are as accurate as possible and protect properly registered voters from being inadvertently removed from the voter rolls.”Clay Barker, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Barker explained that federal and state law provide the following reasons for a voter to be removed from voter rolls: death, federal and state felony conviction, or notice from the county election office.
Federal and state law allow a notice to be sent if a county election officer receives notice from the United States Postal Service (USPS) that the voter no longer resides at the registered address. If the notice is not returned or returned as undeliverable, the county election officer must wait two consecutive federal election cycles before removing the voter from the voter roll.
The senate bill provides an additional reason for county election officers to send a notice, which would be “no election related activity.”
Barker argued that “less than 40%” of people who move file a change of address with the USPS and are listed on the change of address database. He also noted that the Supreme Court approved of the process in 2018.
However, some voting rights organizations in the state are not convinced it will work. Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light Civic Action, testified in opposition of the bill.
Hammet said the bill would expand voter roll “cleaning” procedures in a “dangerous way” that would remove eligible Kansas voters from voter rolls.
“Kansas currently has extensive processes to keep voter registration records updated. The process in SB 349 would remove voters based solely on their decision to not vote in certain elections. The process would remove Kansans solely because they have not voted in two presidential cycles.”Davis Hammet, Loud Light Civic Action
In testimony, Hammet also argued that there’s lack of a “cure” for voters that are wrongfully removed from voter rolls.
“Wrongfully purged individuals in Kansas would be subject to the 21-day voter registration deadline,” Hammet said. “This means the voter who registered to vote will show up on Election Day having had their registration deleted and therefore being unable to re-register to re-activate their registration.”
The ACLU, League of Women Voters, and Disability Rights Center of Kansas also opposed the bill, worrying about its impact on minority voters, and individuals with disabilities. However, in his testimony, Barker said the process was “uniform and nondiscriminatory.”
“The Kansas Secretary of State is in support of this proposal to ensure our voter rolls continue to be accurate and reliable,” Barker said.
If enacted, Senate Bill 439 would go into effect on July 1 this year.