Kansas Voters’ Access Varies Wildly Across the State

ACLU of Kansas Report Finds Local Election Officials in Counties with Lagging Turnout Could Take Additional Steps to Improve Voter Access

Thursday, June 29, 2023

CONTACT: Esmie Tseng, ACLU of Kansas, [email protected]

OVERLAND PARK, KAN. – The upcoming Independence Day holiday is an opportunity for celebration and reflection on the principles of democracy, liberty, and justice for all. Here in Kansas, a new report by the ACLU of Kansas finds that voters in the state have wildly varied access to democracy across the state. All Democracy is (Still) Local outlines the ways Kansans’ ability to exercise their right to vote is determined by local policies and practices resulting from decisions made by election officials in their respective counties.

“As we consider the upcoming holiday and our nation’s values, we must also reckon with the work that remains to fully realize the promise of America,” said Micah Kubic, Executive Director of the ACLU of Kansas. “That includes especially here in the Free State, where we can and should build a culture that makes voting accessible to every eligible Kansas and celebrates what it means to have a strong democracy.”

Kansas has an especially decentralized election system, with each county’s respective election official determining how to run elections and whether to proactively protect voting rights in their community.

“Without any change to current state law, Kansas election officials are fully authorized to strengthen democracy in their own counties,” said Kubic. “However, our report finds that many Kansas voters face long lines, inconvenient hours, or lack of information when it comes to casting a ballot. Many of the commonsense solutions proposed in this report simply meet the needs of everyday Kansans who are balancing work, family, and busy schedules with ensuring their voices are heard in the democratic process.”

The ACLU of Kansas completed a similar report in 2018, highlighting the relationship between voter turnout and local election administration policies. In the years since, in the counties with the most lagging voter turnout numbers in the 2018 midterm elections, local election officials have not fully utilized all the tools at their disposal to address low turnout. The five counties with the lowest rates of turnout in 2022—Seward, Geary, Finney, Ford, Meade, and Wyandotte—are also home to populations proportionately more diverse than the rest of the state, with significantly larger communities of Latino, Black, Asian, and Native people than the rest of the state.

“Voting should be easier, not harder. It is our hope that Kansas election officials find this report helpful in informing their administrative choices and lowering the obstacles voters face,” said Kubic. “We also hope that this provides a framework for Kansas voters to call for their election officials—the majority of whom are elected officials themselves—to improve access in their communities.”

The report finds the following:

  • No counties utilize the entire early voting period, but those that offer more days of early voting have higher turnout: Counties that started their early voting period 20 days before Election Day, the maximum length allowed by statute, had significantly higher turnout—52.85%—compared to those with periods of 1-14 days, which saw an average of 49.52% turnout. However, even among the majority of counties that begin their early voting period 20 days before Election Day, there are only 14 actual days of early voting offered within that period.
  • Voter turnout could increase by several percentage points if the early voting period were fully utilized: The report estimates that if all counties were to maximize the early voting period so that they were open 18 days (every day except Sunday), at least 20,803 additional Kansas voters could participate—a potential 2% increase of the current turnout rate, taking statewide voter turnout from 50.5% to 51.6%.
  • Most counties offer very little flexibility in the hours when voting is available; those that do have higher turnout: The overwhelming majority—80%—of Kansas’s counties provide exactly zero hours of early voting outside of Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The greatest impact of providing this kind of access was seen in counties that provided more than 20 hours outside of business hours, where turnout was 53.92%, higher than the state’s average.
  • Counties with multiple early voting locations have higher turnout: Only 22 counties offered multiple early voting locations, with the majority instead undermining the convenience of early voting by requiring Kansas voters to drive to a further, singular location. Counties with five or more early voting locations saw an average turnout rate of 53.19%, well above the state average.
  • Many polling locations are overcrowded, and overcrowded polls is related to lower turnout rates: Voters per Election Day polls had the highest overlap with higher turnout. Eighteen of the 20 counties with the most robust turnout rates in the state also had fewer voters per poll than the state’s average. The counties with the least number of voters assigned to each poll, 1 to 499 voters, had an average turnout rate of a whopping 62.47%, compared to average turnout in the counties with over 4,000 voters per poll: 36.27%.
  • Curbside voting is not widely available: Not all Kansas counties appear to meet the election standard of requiring curbside voting availability. Even among the 90 counties that reported they do have some form of curbside voting available, very few have visible signage and some require calling ahead to arrange it in advance. Even in the cases that curbside voting is offered in theory, there is a troubling need for better voter information and for accountability on the ground at the actual poll.
  • Information about permanent advance voting status is scarce: Few Kansas counties inform voters of their ability to apply for permanent advance. Only nine counties indicated that they send out advance ballots proactively.
  • Few counties, even highly diverse ones, offer election materials in languages in addition to English: Only four counties meet the federal threshold requiring voting materials in additional languages, but ten counties either provide some non-English voting materials or translation options, despite not meeting the federal threshold. However, Wyandotte, Johnson, and Sedgwick Counties, the state’s most populous counties that also happen to have the largest populations with limited English proficiency, do not provide voting materials in additional languages, despite having the largest populations of individuals with limited English proficiency.
  • Most counties do little to guarantee the voting rights of eligible voters who are in jail: Even among the few counties reporting an official vote-from-jail program or a working relationship with their sheriff or their staff to ensure individuals can vote, the burden appears to be on the detained person to vote, rather than consisting of a proactive effort throughout the jail to include anyone who is eligible.

Based on these findings, the report proposes:

  • Increasing the early voting period and the actual number of days within the period.
  • Increasing early voting access outside of business hours.
  • Increasing the number of early voting locations.
  • Opening more Election Day locations for less crowded polls.
  • Ensuring meaningful curbside voting at all polling locations.
  • Informing voters of permanent advance voting status.
  • Providing voting materials in languages other than English.
  • Establishing a vote-from-jail program.


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About the ACLU of Kansas: The ACLU of Kansas is the statewide affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU of Kansas is dedicated to preserving and advancing the civil rights and legal freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For more information, visit our website at www.aclukansas.org.