WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A law from 2019 could make voting in Kansas easier, but voters may not reap the benefits for years.
Voting centers have been a part of early voting in Sedgwick County for quite some time.
“We’ve been doing that here in this county since about 2000,” said Jim Howell, Sedgwick County commissioner. “So, almost 20 years now we’ve been doing this.”
Voting centers would allow Kansas voters to cast their ballot at any site in the county they live in instead of only being allowed to vote at an assigned precinct.
“We were neutral on the issue because one, it’s going to be a big cost to the county, and it’s not easy to do,” said Scott Schwab, Kansas Secretary of State. “But if you can do it, it does enhance the voter’s experience when they vote. They can vote next to where they work instead of next to where they live.”
State leaders said it has taken months to complete the rules and regulations for the new law. Schwab said this followed a lengthy approval process and an unexpected lawsuit.
The timeline is not uncommon, though. Schwab said the state of California took four years to implement voting centers.
“We are waiting for public comment, but by next month, those rules and regulations will be in effect and counties who want to start working toward vote centers, this election or local elections, they can,” said Schwab.
Sedgwick County officials are anxious to move forward after spearheading the idea back in 2019.
Commissioner Howell said while officials are excited and hope for voting centers to increase voter turnout, he knows it will be some time before it’s rolled out.
“The way the rules and regulations frankly just don’t make it where we can do it this year,” said Howell. “They want us to submit a detailed plan to the Secretary of State 180 days prior to the election. You do the math, there’s not time in 2021 election cycle for us to do this.”
Some local voting advocates are on-board and said regardless of the time it takes, this change will be worth it.
“Anything that makes it easier for voters to vote,” said Carole Neal with the Wichita League of Women Voters. “People are able to go on their lunch hour from work and just go down the street perhaps to vote. They don’t have to go clear across town to where they live.”
Secretary Schwab said this process could be costly for some counties.
Howell said while he’s unsure of the exact cost for Sedgwick County, he knows the technology used for voting centers is something the county already has in play.
Schwab said the public comment will come in February and then the rules and regulations have to be approved by the Legislature’s Joint Committee.
In a meeting with officials on Friday, (Jan 8) some of the challenges with voting centers were discussed.
Those challenges include guaranteeing that a voter doesn’t cast more than one ballot or try to vote at several locations. Potential outages that could impact all voting centers were brought up, as well.
Something that could take several elections to figure out is voter volume. Leaders are considering requiring election officials to estimate the highest number of voters at any location and after each election cycle, they’d like a review of how many voters actually showed up.
Once the rules and regulations are complete, it will be up to each individual county to decide if they want to move toward voting centers. It is up to county commissioners to decide where the money will come from the fund the centers.