Kansas setting record for mail ballot requests amid pandemic

WASHINGTON (AP) — Kansas election officials are receiving mail ballot applications at a historic rate, already exceeding just five months into the year the total number from the last general election in 2016.

Figures from Secretary of State Scott Schwab’s office show that Kansas had processed 57,687 applications as of Friday, The Kansas City Star reports. That’s over 3,500 higher than 2016’s total and the number is expected to increase.

Kansas voters have been allowed to cast ballots by mail since 1996. However, the unparalleled move by county officials underscores COVID-19’s impact on the mechanics of voting in 2020. They aim to prevent long lines in August and November, as voters elect a new U.S. senator and other lawmakers.

“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 workers in Johnson County sent about 380,000 applications for mail ballots, one to every registered voter in the state’s most-populated county.

Sedgwick County election officials will do the same thing and plan to send 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 that detail how they can apply for a mail ballot.

Cowley County Clerk Karen Madison said she typically gets about 300 requests for primary mail ballots. But she has already received more than 3,000, which is roughly 15% of the county’s registered voters.

“I’m getting stacks of them every day,” she said earlier this month.

The state's embrace of mail voting comes as President Donald Trump and other Republican leaders have condemned efforts to expand it amid the coronavirus outbreak, contending without evidence that it could increase the potential for voter fraud.