By JOHN HANNA
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansans who vote by mail would still be allowed a three-day grace period for their ballots to arrive, after Republican state legislators abandoned a proposal Friday requiring ballots to arrive on Election Day. The GOP is still pursuing efforts to restrict the use of ballot drop boxes.
Republican lawmakers' latest plans emerged Friday from negotiations between the House and Senate over proposals to tighten state election laws. While the Senate approved the proposal on ballot drop boxes late Friday, the House did not take it up before lawmakers adjourned early Saturday for their annual, three-week spring break.
The GOP-controlled Senate also approved a proposal that would cut the number of drop boxes across the state by more than 40% — with some significant decreases in rural, heavily Republican counties.
The GOP-controlled House considered neither measure, and a proposal to end the three-day grace period died in a House committee.
Republicans in Kansas have pushed for years to tighten state elections laws. But their latest push is part of a broader national effort in the wake of former President Donald Trump's false claims that voter fraud cost him the 2020 election.
“All the work we've done this year on election bills is trying to improve elections, the process, and bring credibility back to the voters to where they have confidence,” state Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican and the Senate's chief negotiator on elections measures, said during a debate Friday night.
Olson argued for ending the three-day grace period as a way of speeding up the counting of votes and because, “Election Day should be Election Day.” But House negotiators rejected the argument, saying counties would still have to wait to count ballots that they had set aside over whether the people who cast them were eligible to do so.
The proposal on ballot drop boxes was part of a broader agenda for conservatives that also included passing a proposal to make it easier for parents to challenge classroom and library materials in public schools. Lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene April 25 to wrap up their business for the year.
The vote in the Senate on the ballot drop box measure was 21-17, with some Republicans who represent rural areas joining Democrats in voting against it. Under the measure, 48 of the state's 105 counties would lose at least one drop box, and statewide, the number would drop by 80, to 111 from the 191 used in the 2020 elections, according to the Kansas secretary of state's office.
Some Republicans argue that drop boxes are vulnerable to fraud or vandalism, despite a lack of reported problems in Kansas. The bill would set the first statewide standards in Kansas law — something Olson touted — requiring drop boxes be sealed and monitored by video when the local election office is closed.
Democrats argued there would be little point in having ballot drop boxes if workers couldn't use them after hours. They also decried the plan to decrease the number of boxes.
“The advantage of the ballot boxes is that you can do it to fit your schedule, and this stops that,” said Democratic state Sen. Marci Francisco, of Lawrence, who also suggested that having fewer boxes would hurt disabled voters.
A key provision would limit counties to one ballot drop box per 30,000 registered voters. According to the secretary of state’s data, the average is about one box for every 10,000 registered voters, and some rural counties with only a few thousand voters have multiple boxes. Only 10 counties have more than 30,000 registered voters.
Meanwhile, Kansas also was part of Republican state lawmakers’ push to give conservative parents more say in how public schools are run.
A bill approved by the House, 67-46, and by the Senate, 23-15, would require local school boards to adopt policies for giving parents access to classroom materials, challenging materials in classrooms and libraries and allowing them to inspect school records. The measure goes next to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.
Supporters touted it as a “transparency” alternative to trying to ban the teaching of certain concepts that suggest current institutions were deeply shaped by slavery and racism or remain racist.