Under the Bus: Kansas U.S. Senate Controversy Hits Local Officials Full Speed

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[Image courtesy of kareemslater]

The controversy over the U.S. Senate race in Kansas has been building for a few weeks now, as one candidate’s withdrawal – followed by a court challenge – throws the race into political chaos less than two months before Election Day.

Unfortunately (as I feared), that chaos is consuming Kansas election officials at the worst possible time – the deadline for delivering ballots to military and overseas voters. The Kansas City Star has more:

Hundreds of Kansas ballots are on their way to overseas voters without the name of a Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate — but with an unusual note from election authorities.

The ballots were mailed the day after the Kansas Supreme Court ordered Secretary of State Kris Kobach to strike Democrat Chad Taylor from the ballot.

Of course, the controversy isn’t over, as the SoS and state Democrats continue to wrangle over what’s next:

Kobach argued Thursday that state law required Democrats to provide a new candidate. He gave them a week to come up with a replacement and suggested the ballots might be delayed.

On Friday, Kobach appeared to change course, telling election clerks to mail their overseas ballots now to meet a federal deadline.

Kobach hasn’t dropped his argument that Democrats need a nominee. Instead, he told local election officials to include a notice outlining the ballot dispute and suggesting a different ballot may eventually be necessary.

“You may vote using the ballot accompanying this letter as soon as you receive it, or you may wait to vote until you’ve received further notification from us,” the notice tells overseas voters.

Looming over all of this is the federal 45-day MOVE Act deadline for overseas ballots, enforced by the U.S. Justice Department:

Some news organizations reported that the U.S. Justice Department was willing to give the state an extra week to mail its overseas ballots in case another candidate was chosen.

But the Justice Department said Friday it had not offered any waiver for overseas ballots in Kansas. In fact, a spokeswoman said, the department has sued states that have failed to mail ballots 45 days before Election Day, as required by law.

All of this has left election officials – who are caught between the state controversy and the federal deadline – not on the bus but under it:

Johnson County Election Commissioner Brian Newby said his office had mailed 67 ballots with Taylor’s name Thursday, before the state Supreme Court ruling. He said the office was unsure about the court’s decision schedule and wanted to make sure the Saturday deadline was met.

After the decision, the office sent out notices correcting the ballots.

Last week, Newby had this to say on ElectionDiary:

[W]e have about 75 [overseas ballots]. Mind you, that’s 75 full ballots with more than just the US Senate race.

That’s 75 four-page ballots unique to each voter. In order to have them optically scanned, we typically send the voters actual ballots, but when our actual ballots aren’t ready to print, we have to send homemade unique ballots that later will be hand counted. With about 20 items for voting per ballot, and 75 ballots, that’s a lot of hands across the water.

That doesn’t begin to address the fact that soon we will have to mail about 30,000 advance ballots, in less than a month, October 15. We’re usually getting our ballots back from the printer by now, not wondering when we’ll send them to the printer. This October 15 date also is a fixed deadline by statute, not a beginning day, but an actual day. We will be toddling down to the post office that day with 30,000 envelopes that we hope contain the final ballot.

The good news here is that decision we made to print our own ballots for advance by mail. Operationally, had we not done that, there would be no blog post today. I couldn’t type. We’d be totally paralyzed.

There are formulas that can be used to consider the payback of ballot-on-demand printer purchases. We chose to only go down this path if it made sense operationally, and that’s an obvious prove-in now.

Economically, though, they have paid for themselves simply because of the cost we would have had to expedite printing of these ballots. Go figure. I just did.

Beyond the obvious issues stated, this is just life in elections. We sent ballots out by email to meet the Department of Justice deadline with the caveat that that there was litigation afoot and to please not vote the ballots and return them until we checked in again on Monday. We’ll now be checking in today, saying corrected new ballots will be on their way once this issue is completely resolved and to disregard the initial mailing …

It often feels like we’ll be working on a ballot some day AFTER the election. I’m hoping that continues to be a ridiculous thought.

Those of you who follow HHHElections on Twitter know that I have been campaigning to let Kansas local officials PRINT THE DAMN BALLOTS for quite some time. I got in touch with Brian last night to check in and commiserate – and in so doing. mentioned that it must have helped that this bus that hit him came with some warning. Here’s what he had to say:

You know, if you’re suddenly hit by a bus or know in advance that you’ll be hit by a bus, you’re still hit by a bus. I don’t think seeing the crazy hurling this way will make it any less crazy.

Such is the life of an election official. Here’s hoping this saga – at least the election administration part of it – has reached its conclusion.

Either way, look both ways – and stay tuned …

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