Kansas Republican lawmakers revived a plan to discontinue providing voters three extra days to return mail ballots

Republican lawmakers in Kansas are making a renewed effort to pass a proposal that would eliminate the three-day extension for mail ballot returns after polls close. To gain support from rural GOP lawmakers and potentially override the Democratic governor’s veto, key concessions have been made.

Republicans claim that counting ballots received after Election Day undermines public trust in the election results. However, there is no evidence to suggest that this practice has resulted in fraud or significant errors. The Republican-controlled Legislature is expected to vote on the proposed version of the bill, which was drafted by GOP negotiators for the House and Senate, later this week.

As election conspiracy promoters gained influence within the Kansas GOP, they spearheaded the movement to eliminate the “grace period.” These individuals have been spreading unfounded allegations of widespread election fraud and amplifying the false claim made by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.

Rural Republicans have shown resistance to the policy as it was implemented in 2017 due to concerns over the slowing down of U.S. mail delivery in their districts.

“People tend to be suspicious when the outcome of a close election changes as the counting of votes continues after Election Day,” said Pat Proctor, a Republican from the Kansas City area and Chair of the House Elections Committee.

In Monday’s negotiations, he expressed his belief that taking ballots after Election Day does not compromise the security of our votes. However, he acknowledged that this practice does raise doubts, particularly among some Republicans.

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According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, over 30 states have a requirement for mail ballots to be received by Election Day. However, the deadlines for the remaining states differ, ranging from 5 p.m. the day after polls close in Texas to no specific deadline in Washington state.

The Kansas proposal, in its latest version, intends to extend the grace period until the beginning of 2025. Additionally, it includes a provision to allow two extra days for advance voting. This means that individuals would have the option to vote in person at election offices and receive mail ballots 22 days prior to an election, instead of the current 20-day limit. Moreover, the proposal mandates that county offices must remain open for at least four hours on the Saturday before an election to facilitate advance, in-person voting.

The purpose of these provisions is to persuade rural Republicans who may be doubtful and secure the necessary two-thirds majorities in both chambers to override a governor’s veto.

“We are eager to eliminate the three-day grace period and address this issue immediately,” expressed Sen. Mike Thompson, a Kansas City-area Republican and the primary negotiator on elections legislation in the Senate. “We are aware that the governor might veto this, so it is crucial for us to secure the necessary votes.”

Advocates for voting rights contend that reducing the time allotted for Kansas voters to return their ballots may result in the disenfranchisement of numerous individuals, including those who are economically disadvantaged, disabled, elderly, and people of color. Governor Laura Kelly previously vetoed a bill seeking to eliminate the grace period, and Republican leaders were unable to muster the necessary two-thirds majorities in both chambers to overturn her decision.

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According to Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau, the law was effectively implemented with a three-day grace period. She represented the Democratic senators in the negotiations.

In the previous month, the Senate deliberated on a bill that aimed to mandate mail ballots to be received by the closing time of polls, typically at 7 p.m. across most counties. However, certain Senators, who were promoting unfounded election conspiracies, introduced amendments that not only sought to prohibit electronic vote tabulating but also aimed to eliminate ballot drop boxes. As a result, this divisive move caused a rift among Republicans and ultimately led to the failure of the bill.

Republicans who are in favor of ending the grace period argue that ballots without postmarks cannot be legally counted by local officials, leading to the disenfranchisement of those voters.

The frequency of such occurrences remains uncertain as the state has not gathered any data on the matter. However, the Kansas secretary of state’s office, responsible for overseeing elections, has requested county officials to compile relevant information this year. Although Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a Republican who supports the integrity of the state’s elections, remains neutral on ending the grace period.

Faust-Goudeau suggested that they could address the issue by implementing a measure that eliminates the requirement for a postmark.

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