Kansas: More Kansans are asking for mail ballots while officials work to make polling places pandemic-safe | Jim McLean/Shawnee Mission Post

Facing the prospect of standing in line at polling places amid the coronavirus pandemic, requests from Kansans for mail ballots continue to come in at a record clip. As of June 17, more than 142,000 Kansans had filed applications for advance ballots for the Aug. 4 primary. That far exceeds the 54,000 requested at the same point in the last presidential election year. Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab said the jump reflects worries about in-person voting, but he’s not willing to heed calls from state Democratic Party officials to switch to all-mail elections. That would create “massive voter confusion,” said Schwab, a Republican preparing to oversee his first statewide election. Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — conduct all elections by mail. Other states may do so this year to prevent a surge in coronavirus cases. Kansas Democrats conducted their May 2 presidential primary entirely by mail. They considered it such a success that State Party Chair Vicki Hiatt said Schwab should use a similar process for this year’s primary and general elections rather than putting “a whole lot of money into making provisions for safety.”

Kansas: Despite Trump’s attacks, Kansas voters request 2020 mail ballots at historic rate | Bryan Lowry and Sarah Ritter/The Wichita Eagle

Johnson County election workers spent Memorial Day weekend sending out roughly 380,000 applications for mail ballots — one to every registered voter in the state’s most populous county. Kansas has allowed voters to cast ballots by mail for any reason since 1996. But the unprecedented move by county officials reflects COVID-19’s impact on the mechanics and politics of voting in 2020. Their hope is to prevent long lines in August and November, as voters elect a new U.S. senator and other office holders amid the ongoing the pandemic. “Because of COVID-19, we’re very concerned about our voters and poll workers. So the secretary of state and county officials decided we wanted to encourage vote-by-mail, and in Kansas, we’re lucky to have that option,” said Johnson County Election Commissioner Connie Schmidt. “And since we don’t know what the pandemic is going to look like in the fall, we decided to go ahead and mail out forms for both elections.” Election officials in Sedgwick County will be doing the same this week and plan on sending another round of applications in September. Douglas and Leavenworth Counties are also mailing applications to all voters, while election officials in other counties have sent postcards to voters explaining how to apply for a mail ballot.

Kansas: Johnson County will consider spending $1 million to update voting machinery to address COVID-19 concerns | Roxie Hammill/Shawnee Mission Post

County election officials are getting set to spend $1 million soon to add tabulation devices to its two-year-old voting machinery – a move election officials say is necessary because of concerns over the spread of COVID-19. But the change also renders redundant the built-in tabulation function that was the star feature of the $10.6 million purchase in 2018. That year the county was first in the country to use the voting machine/tabulation combo that had just been developed by vendor Election Systems and Software, of Omaha. The existing machines will now basically become ballot markers instead. Voters who use them to make their choices will then walk their marked ballots over to a separate tabulator to be counted, said Connie Schmidt, who is election commissioner through this year’s ballots, after which the Secretary of State’s appointee Fred Sherman will take over. The plan is to swap out 240 of the voting machines with brand-new DS 200 tabulators, Schmidt said. But because they aren’t equal in price, the county will need to spend another $1,020,500. And it has to be done before the end of May, because that’s when special pricing expires from a previous group deal with Sedgwick, Shawnee and Wyandotte counties. All but about $35,000 may be reimbursed from federal funds.

Kansas: Elections move ahead, while virus changes game for candidates | Stephen Koranda/Hays Post

Tobias Wood is thinking twice about working at a polling place in Shawnee County this year. He’s done it since 2018, but now he’s practicing social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19. He knows that might be difficult during elections, when he needs to handle people’s IDs and have voters sign in on a tablet. “We don’t have control over what people come in with,” he said. “That’s something that really scares me.” Kansas’ late primary — Aug. 3 — puts it in a less urgent position to either postpone it as Missouri and other states did, or go forward with fewer polling places like Wisconsin. It’s why Secretary of State Scott Schwab is avoiding major changes like rescheduling election dates. “You’ve got to be really careful because you’re going to create voter confusion if you move the day,” said Schwab, who hopes the virus will have largely run its course by August. “That’s the biggest thing we’re trying to avoid is voter confusion.”

Kansas: Counties’ websites may lack security against hackers | Associated Press

Many Kansas counties’websites may be at risk as they lack basic protocols that make it easier for hackers to impersonate websites in order to install malware or trick individuals into giving out their personal information. Out of 105 counties, only eight of them have websites ending in .gov, a domain extension only government officials can control, and 60 counties’ URLs start with “http” rather than the more secure “https.” Experts say it could be a serious concern for smaller governments during a time of increasing cyberattacks, KCUR-FM reported. Local governments have in recent years become frequent targets of ransomware attacks, where hackers hold data hostage in exchange for money.

Kansas: Elections chief’s security plan causes local unease | John Hanna/Associated Press

Kansas’ elections chief is pushing to make the state’s central voter registration database more secure by changing how counties tap into it, but some officials are nervous about what they see as a big project in a busy election year. Secretary of State Scott Schwab has told county election officials that he wants them to use dedicated tablets, laptops or computers not linked to their counties’ networks to access the state’s voter registration database. He says Kansas is getting $8 million in federal election security funds that could be used to cover the costs. Schwab, a Republican and former Kansas House member from the Kansas City area who became the state’s top elections official last year, contends such a setup will decrease the likelihood of foreign nationals, foreign governments or domestic hackers gaining access to voter registration records. His idea has bipartisan support. In September 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told officials in 21 states that their election systems had been targeted by hackers before the 2016 presidential election. Kansas wasn’t on the list, but Schwab said in an interview last week that “every area of government gets pinged thousands of times.”

Kansas: Democrats sue over Kansas delay in start of ‘vote anywhere’ | John Hanna/Associated Press

Kansas and national Democratic Party groups on Friday sued the Republican official who oversees the state’s elections, accusing him of violating voters’ rights by delaying the implementation of a law designed to make voting on Election Day more convenient. The lawsuit was filed in state district court in Topeka after Secretary of State Scott Schwab said his office would need another year to draft regulations needed for counties to take advantage of a 2019 state “vote anywhere” law. The law permits counties to allow voters to cast their ballots at any polling place within their borders on Election Day, rather than only at a single site. Some officials in Sedgwick County, home to the state’s largest city, Wichita, believe it is ready to allow voters to choose their polling sites. They note that it has allowed voters to cast their ballots in advance at multiple locations for more than a decade, with the county’s entire electronic voter registration database accessible to workers at each one. It also deployed new voting machines in 2017 that allow a “vote anywhere” system.

Kansas: Senate panel considers bill requiring paper ballots in Kansas elections | Sydney Hoover/The Topeka Capital-Journal

The Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill that would require all Kansas counties to use paper ballots to count votes. Ballots would have several requirements, including the voter’s signature. Votes would be counted by hand or using vote-tabulating equipment that would tally the paper ballot. “At one time, everything was paper ballots, but now Kansas currently has a mix,” said Sen. Richard Hildebrand, R-Baxter Springs. “Once you cast your ballot, you are up to whatever the machine says you voted without the verification from the voter.” Hildebrand said the bill would eliminate the chance of issues such as those during the Iowa caucuses, where a faulty mobile application failed to transmit votes and caused a delay in results.

Kansas: County, lawmakers battle to make voting easier this year | Dion Lefler/The Wichita Eagle

Sedgwick County is turning to the state Legislature to try to force Secretary of State Scott Schwab to let county voters choose their own polling place in this year’s upcoming elections. A Republican lawmaker has agreed to introduce a bill to let the County Commission change the voting procedure without Schwabb’s blessing. Meanwhile, the top Senate Democrat says he may take Schwab to court in an effort to make him comply with a law passed last year. The law at issue would replace traditional polling places with “voting centers” around the community. Any voter could vote at any voting center, instead of having to go to an assigned polling place on election day. Commissioners and legislators say they think Schwab has dragged his feet on implementing the law. “I’m very frustrated over this thing,” said county Commissioner Jim Howell. “We passed this law last year, we pushed it forward late in the (legislative) session because we wanted to have this ready for the 2020 elections.” “Now here we are eight or nine months later and he hasn’t written any rules and regulations yet. Why?” Schwab says he supports the new law, but crafting the regulations and ensuring necessary cybersecurity precautions is a complicated process that won’t be done in time for this year’s presidential and Senate elections.

Kansas: State won’t be ready to implement vote center law for 2020 elections | Tim Carpenter /The Topeka Capital-Journal

Secretary of State Scott Schwab predicted Tuesday regulations necessary to implement a state law allowing Kansans to vote at the polling station of their choice won’t be completed in time for the August or November elections in 2020. Schwab told members of the Senate’s election committee that technical considerations, including cellphone coverage problems, in the state’s 105 counties made the process of drafting rules complex. The program won’t be finalized until 2021, he said. The voting reform bill signed last year by Gov. Laura Kelly was inspired by a proposal from Sedgwick County officials. “They are not going to be ready by this year simply because we don’t want to screw up,” the secretary of state said. “If we rushed it through for this year, I promise you there would be a lot of mistakes.”

Kansas: Election Officials Say They’re On Guard For Hackers Messing With Your 2020 Vote | Stephen Koranda/HPPR

Kansas and federal election officials say they know the 2020 election could come under attack from foreign governments or rogue hackers. They also insist they’re braced to guard against efforts to tamper with voting. In recent elections, Russian hackers tried to breach election systems in more than 20 states and successfully accessed voter registration data in Illinois. The top election official in Kansas assumes  the state’s voting system could be next. “We got a U.S. Senate seat up for election, so that even makes it more of a target,” Republican Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab said. “We’re not going to assume we’re safe, even though we are right now.” Federal law enforcement officials warn that foreign governments will try to undermine the results and influence public sentiment. “Russia, China, Iran and other foreign malicious actors all will seek to interfere in the voting process or influence voter perceptions,” read a joint statement from the FBI and other federal security officials last month.

Kansas: Cyberattacks vandalized Kansas county websites in August, exposing security weaknesses | Jonathan Shorman/The Wichita Eagle

Cyberattacks crippled the websites of about a dozen Kansas counties in early August — replacing their homepages with cryptic messages and an image of Mecca. One county, which was conducting an election during the assault, decided against posting results online. The attacks did not affect vote counting but meant citizens didn’t have access to normal government information, such as contacts for local agencies, for several hours. The hacks defaced websites, but did not affect other systems. It does not appear the hacker or hackers took data hostage, as has happened elsewhere in the country. State officials don’t think the hacking was connected to the August primary election. But the attacks — not widely known until now — showcased the cyber vulnerabilities of local governments in Kansas. And they took place as online threats are rising.

Kansas: Former Johnson County Election Commissioner’s leadership of federal agency draws scrutiny | Jay Senter/Shawnee Mission Post

The former Johnson County Election Commissioner who left a string of financial and human resources scandals in his wake here after he accepted an appointment with the federal Election Assistance Commission is now drawing scrutiny for his direction of that agency. A lengthy investigative piece published by POLITICO this month details concerns with Brian Newby’s leadership of the EAC, which is charged with helping local voting operations across the country adhere to the requirements of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. According to the report, elections officials and federal employees have been disheartened by actions from Newby that have stymied efforts to address election security issues.

Kansas: With Kris Kobach Out Of Office, His Voting Policies Could Wither In Kansas | KMUW

Former Republican Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach rewrote the rules for voting in Kansas. Laws he pushed for required voters to show citizenship papers to register and ID at the polls. He secured prosecutorial powers for his office. Kobach’s term only ended a couple weeks ago, but some cornerstones of his legacy are already starting to crumble. A federal court knocked down the state’s voter registration rule last summer. Interstate Crosscheck, a voter records system that Kobach said could help states maintain their voter rolls and spot double voting, is currently on hold and could be abandoned. The new secretary of state wants to take the spotlight off the office. Republican Scott Schwab was sworn in on Jan. 14 and quickly backed one significant change.

Kansas: Judge: Kansas’ Largest County Violated Law By Not Specifying Rejected Ballots | Associated Press

A judge has ruled that election officials in Kansas’ largest county violated open records law by refusing to provide names of hundreds of people whose provisional ballots were not counted in last August’s primary. Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, asked for the names of 898 people whose ballots were thrown out and for justification on why they didn’t count. Johnson County election commissioner Ronnie Metsker rejected Hammet’s request, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union to join Hammet in a lawsuit. District Judge David Hauber ruled in Hammet’s favor on Thursday, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Metzger didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the ruling.

Kansas: Court orders elections officer to disclose records on dismissed ballots | The Hutchinson News

A Johnson County District Court judge ruled Thursday in favor of a voting rights advocate seeking records about hundreds of ballots that were tossed in the August primary. Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, asked for the names of individuals who cast provisional ballots and the justification for why they didn’t count. His request was rejected by the Johnson County election commissioner, Ronnie Metsker. The American Civil Liberties Union supported Hammet in a lawsuit challenging the lack of transparency. District Judge David Hauber ruled the refusal to provide names was a violation of the Kansas Open Records Act.”Now elections officials know that whenever they throw out a ballot people will know, and so they need to be really strict about standards,” Hammet said.

Kansas: State drops Kris Kobach’s appeal of contempt ruling, ACLU accepts $20,000 for legal fees | The Topeka Capital-Journal

The Kansas attorney general said Tuesday the state agreed to drop former Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s appeal of a federal court judge’s contempt order in exchange for the American Civil Liberties Union accepting only $20,000 for attorney fees and expenses. Attorney General Derek Schmidt said the negotiated deal reduced from $26,200 the state’s obligation to the ACLU. U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson had found Kobach in contempt of court while he was serving as secretary of state in Kansas. Robinson sanctioned Kobach for failure to comply with her instructions. Mediation involving ACLU lawyers and the attorney general’s office Jan. 25 also led to dismissal of Kobach’s appeal of the contempt ruling. It didn’t alter status of the state’s appeal of Robinson’s underlying election law decision, which found Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship statute unconstitutional.

Kansas: Senate bill allows same-day registration, voting in Kansas elections | McPherson Sentinel

A bipartisan group Kansas senators endorsed a bill abandoning a state law requiring people to register at least three weeks in advance of an election to be eligible to vote. Contents of Senate Bill 43 would allow Kansans residents to register to vote and cast a provisional ballot on Election Day. Under current law, voters must be registered by the 21st day before the election. For example, the 2018 deadline for voter registration was July 17 for the primary conducted Aug. 7. In the Nov. 6 general election, the registration deadline was Oct. 16.

Kansas: With Kobach gone, bills target his legacy of prosecuting vote fraud | The Wichita Eagle

A big piece of Kris Kobach’s legacy appears to be on its way out as Kansas lawmakers move forward on parallel tracks to repeal the authority of the secretary of state to prosecute election crimes. The House Judiciary Committee is considering one bill to do that, introduced by Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita. The House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice is considering a slightly different version requested by Attorney General Derek Schmidt last week. Either would revoke the authority the secretary of state now has to take people to court if they violate laws related to voting. Kobach, a lawyer, fought for years to get that authority when he served in the post, finally winning the battle in 2015. He was convinced that it held the key to stop what he believed was widespread fraudulent voting by illegal immigrants.

Kansas: Kobach grand jury process to begin next week in Douglas County | Lawrence Journal-World

Grand jury proceedings to investigate former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office will begin next week in Douglas County District Court, according to the judge presiding over them. Judge Kay Huff said that the proceedings would begin in her courtroom on Jan. 22, a Tuesday, following Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Grand jury proceedings are closed to the public. Huff mentioned the grand jury during a hearing for a murder trial she had been scheduled to preside over this week, noting that the grand jury matter was a priority that could not be moved despite other proceedings in her courtroom.

Kansas: Ford County pays more than $70,000 to firm hired in Kansas voting rights case | Topeka Capital Journal

Ford County has paid more than $70,000 in legal fees to the firm representing County Clerk Debbie Cox, who was sued over voting access in one of the state’s few majority-minority cities. In October and November, the county paid $71,481 to the Hinkle Law Firm, which is based in Wichita, a document obtained through an open records request indicates. The money comes from the county’s general fund, Cox said. The ACLU sued Cox in late October after she moved Dodge City’s sole voting location outside city limits because the original location was to undergo construction. The lawsuit alleged that the move disenfranchised voters and in particular, the Hispanic population, who make up about 60 percent of the town.

Kansas: Judge troubled by clerk’s ‘LOL’ remark, but won’t order another Dodge City polling site | The Wichita Eagle

A southwest Kansas county clerk doesn’t have to open a second polling site in Dodge City, a federal judge ruled on Thursday. U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Crabtree said forcing Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox to open an additional polling location in Dodge City so close to the Nov. 6 election would not be in the public’s interest. But Crabtree said he is troubled by Cox’s reaction to an American Civil Liberties Union letter, which Cox forwarded last week to a state official with the comment “LOL.” Cox moved the city’s only polling place from a central location in town, the Civic Center, to the Expo Center half a mile outside the city limits this fall. The new location is not accessible via sidewalk and there is no regular public transportation there, though the city has said it will provide rides to voters. The League of United Latin American Citizens and 18-year-old first-time voter Alejandro Rangel-Lopez had sued Cox in an effort to force her to open a second polling location.

Kansas: Lawyers clash over adding second Dodge City voting site | The Wichita Eagle

Opening a second Election Day polling place in Dodge City is impossible, an attorney for the county clerk at the center of a growing Kansas controversy over voting rights said Monday. An 18-year-old Dodge City resident and a Latino civil rights group are suing Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox in an effort to force her to reopen the polling location used by Dodge City’s 13,000 registered voters before Cox moved voting to a site a half mile outside the city limits. Attorneys for the resident, Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, and the League of United Latin American Citizens clashed with attorneys for Cox during a conference call in the case. With the Nov. 6 election approaching, Judge Daniel Crabtree decided to give both sides until 5 p.m. Tuesday to file written arguments.

Kansas: Dodge City polling place debacle: voter suppression or incompetence? | The Guardian

It’s true that if Alejandro Rangel wants to vote on election day, he has to get out of Dodge. But that is not the whole story. Befitting its status as an iconic city of the American West with a reputation built around legendary outlaws and mythical lawmen, Dodge City is now caught in the middle of a political gunfight that has swiftly generated its own half-truths and spiraled into a national controversy. The Democrats drew first, pointing out that the only place to vote in Dodge City on election day is being moved two and a half miles from the city center to an exhibition hall in what amounts to an urban wilderness. The move, they said, will further disenfranchise Latinos who make up a majority of the city’s residents but turn out to vote in very low numbers and have no one from their community elected to the city or county commissions.

Kansas: Dodge City polling place move ignites voter access fears | The Wichita Eagle

After the ACLU objected to Dodge City’s single, out-of-town polling place, the local official in charge of elections forwarded to the state an ACLU letter asking her to publicize a voter help line. “LOL,” she wrote in an email to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office. As Election Day approaches, concerns are being raised in Kansas over voting rights and access to the polls. The movement and elimination of some polling places is sparking fears that casting a ballot may be more difficult for some this year. Nowhere are worries greater than in Dodge City, where residents must leave town if they want to vote on Election Day. The city has drawn national scrutiny over voting rights since Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox — citing construction — moved its only polling location to a building south of the city limits. The site can’t be reached by sidewalks and is separated from much of the city by train tracks. Sixty percent of the town’s residents are Hispanic. “I don’t hate Debbie Cox. I don’t want anything against her. I just want her to do her job properly” and promote voter turnout, said Alejandro Rangel, who plans to cast the first ballot of his life on Nov. 6 after turning 18 on Oct. 29. Cox said she moved the polling location out of a concern for safety. And she said she didn’t mean anything when she wrote “LOL.”

Kansas: Texts to voters purportedly from Trump roil Kansas election | Associated Press

Kansas election officials are reviewing text messages claiming to be from President Donald Trump and telling residents that their early votes hadn’t been recorded, as Democratic leaders were quick Thursday to worry that they were part of efforts to “steal” a close governor’s race. State Elections Director Bryan Caskey said the Kansas secretary of state’s office received 50 or 60 calls about the texts Wednesday, mostly from the northeastern part of the state. Caskey said the office is trying to determine whether the texts broke a law before determining what to do next. One text says “Your absentee ballot is ready. Remember to vote for Pres. Trump’s allies.” A follow-up text says, “This is President Trump. Your early vote has NOT been RECORDED on Kansas’s roster.” It urges the voter to confirm his or her polling place.

Kansas: Meet The Kansas Woman Who Exposed Security Flaws In Kris Kobach’s Voter Fraud Tool | KCUR

Come in and sit down at Anita Parsa’s kitchen table. Help yourself to the chocolate chip cookies and she’ll get you an iced tea. Might as well make yourself comfortable. Because for the next hour, she’s going to school you on a massive voter-tracking program run by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. “I like to figure out puzzles,” Parsa says. “I like to crack things, and that’s what this is all about.” This particular puzzle was Kobach’s Interstate Crosscheck system, which holds voter registration data for 25 states. A list of more than 85 million voters, it purports to catch election fraud by weeding out double voting. Crosscheck reportedly provided the numbers behind President Donald Trump’s baseless claim, after the 2016 election, that he would have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally” – an assertion that Kobach had helped fuel. After his inauguration, when Trump appointed Kobach, with Vice President Mike Pence, to lead his now-defunct Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, Kobach attempted to take the Crosscheck model national. His idea was to get federal jury-service data to identify duplicate voter registrations, according to public documents.

Kansas: Certified voting machines? | The Hutchison News

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office failed to produce records this summer showing it had certified the voting equipment used by hundreds of thousands of Kansans. Kansas statute requires the Secretary of State to certify equipment before counties purchase it and to keep such certification on file. But the office, responding to a Kansas Open Records Act request in June, could provide only two letters of equipment certification that Kobach issued in the past five years. Yet some counties – including Reno and Finney, as well as Sedgwick, Wyandotte, and Shawnee – have purchased systems since October 2013 that were not the systems mentioned in the two certification letters in Topeka. Why were they omitted?

Kansas: With 3.5 weeks until election, Johnson County gets certification for update to voting machine software that caused reporting delays in August | Shawnee Mission Post

Officials have signed off on a patched version of the software program that will power Johnson County’s voting system next month. The question is, will it work? A month and a half after the company announced it had rewritten the portion of its software program that led to massive reporting delays in the August primary elections, Election Systems & Software has received federal and state certification for the software’s use in the Nov. 6 general election, Johnson County announced today. ES&S submitted the corrected software program to the Election Assistance Commission for review on Sept. 5 and received notice of certification on Oct. 4. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office announced today that it was granting state certification to the system as well.

Kansas: Post-Election Audits In Kansas Begin With 2019 Elections | KMUW

Starting next year, Kansas counties are required to do post-election audits. The check will make sure the voting process — from equipment to office procedures — is done correctly, and the election results are accurate. According to legislation approved earlier this year, a county election board will review at least one contested race on federal, state and county levels. According to legislation approved earlier this year, a county election board will review at least one contested race on federal, state and county levels. The audit will be a hand recount of paper ballots, regardless of the method of voting, in one percent of randomly selected voting districts in each county.