By Roxana Hegeman, The Associated Press
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Election officials in Kansas counties don’t believe voter fraud is a problem in the state, according to a survey of local election officials released Friday that counters Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s unsupported claims that voter fraud is widespread.
The finding came in a wide-ranging survey conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union that examined whether county election policies reduced voter turnout and hurt democracy in Kansas. The survey was at least partially completed by election officials in 85 of the state’s 105 counties.
Of the 77 counties whose officials addressed the survey’s question about voter fraud, 66 who responded it was “not a problem at all.” None deemed voter fraud a “significant problem.”
Sherman County Clerk Ashley Mannis, the sole official who said voter fraud was “somewhat of a problem,” noted that Kobach’s office prosecuted two people in her county for duplicate voting. She conceded it was not a widespread problem, adding: “It’s not like we had tons of cases, but it’s not like we had tons of voters, either.”
Kobach’s office, which oversees Kansas elections, did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment on the report. Kobach, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in November, has repeatedly claimed without evidence that voter fraud is a problem in Kansas.
The ACLU survey also found that voter turnout was higher in counties offering more days of early voting, and that in general, the higher the average number of voters assigned to a polling place, the lower the voter turnout.
Overall, Kansas doesn’t fare well when it comes to voter participation. In the 2016 election, voter turnout was 59.2 percent in Kansas, putting the state in 34th place among U.S. states. The 2018 midterm election turnout was slightly more than 50 percent, which still left Kansas in the bottom half of voter turnout nationwide, according to the United States Election Project at the University of Florida.
The ACLU suggested that Kansas election officials could expand early in-person voting, including later and weekend hours; increase the number of polling places to reduce wait times; and advocate for expanding outreach efforts to young voters and minorities.
In its report, the ACLU also examined what it called the “wildly divergent policies and practices” used by local election officials. In Kansas, such officials are the decision makers when it comes to polling sites, in-person voting days and other details that can affect voter turnout.
For example, state guidelines for determining the validity of provisional ballots are vague, so local election officials use their own discretion about which ballots are counted. That became an issue in the state’s close Republican primary for governor, in which Kobach cinched the GOP nomination by just 343 votes. Kobach lost in the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly.
Sedgwick County, the state’s second most populous county, counted provisional ballots even though voters incorrectly filled out forms to switch from no-party affiliation to a party affiliation so they could vote in that party’s primary. But election officials in Johnson County, the state’s most populous, decided not to count provisional ballots with the same issue. Johnson County was much stricter than the other counties with its “signature match” policy.
The ACLU noted that “the job of county elections officials is much more than just counting votes — it is to foster a culture where democracy thrives.”