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Deadline to request mail-in ballot is Tuesday; elections office gets creative to overcome redistricting confusion

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‘We now have 342 different ballots for this election,’ county clerk says

The Douglas County Elections Office continues to receive record numbers of mail-in ballots as the deadline to request delivery of an advance ballot approaches on Tuesday.

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said his office had seen a spike in both voter registration and requests for advance ballots beginning June 24, the day the U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.

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Earlier this month, Shew said his office had already mailed 5,200 ballots to Douglas County residents who had made the request before the first day of advance voting on Aug. 13. Setting aside numbers from 2020 that were skewed by COVID-19, the highest number of primary ballots his office had sent in recent years was 1,180.

“A lot of these are people who’ve never voted in a primary,” Shew said. “I mean, you can see on the voter record, they vote in general elections. These are not typical primary voters.”

Many early voters said the constitutional amendment that would enable Kansas legislators to ban abortion if the measure passes was the driving factor behind their eagerness to cast a ballot. But additional measures include county and statewide contests that will determine who appears on the general election ballot this fall.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Election stickers are bagged and boxed at the Douglas County Elections Office, 711 W. 23rd St.

Shew said poll workers were now working smoothly to distribute and receive advance primary ballots, but the process to reach this point hadn’t been simple.

Congressional and legislative redistricting maps proposed by Republican-led legislators in 2021 remained in limbo until May 18 when the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the changes. Once new boundaries had been drawn, election officials had only a few weeks to create ballots that recognized the new configurations.

In addition, because the Aug. 2 election is a primary, ballots must also differentiate between Democratic, Republican and nonpartisan or Libertarian voters.

“We were kind of behind because of what redistricting did to us,” Shew said. “We got sliced up so much. The result is that we now have 342 different ballots for this election. Redistricting took a really long time.”

The increased number of permutations has required some creativity to simplify how to determine which ballot a voter should get. An intricate system of filing and color coding was created to streamline the process.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Ballots organized by district and party affiliation sit on shelves at the Douglas County Elections Office, 711 W. 23rd St.

Shew said voters in the past had expressed confusion when they heard poll workers identify them by name and random color. But the color, he said, was simply a quicker and easier way to the right ballot into each voter’s hands.

“This way the poll workers won’t have to think about which ballot to give out,” he said. “We had to get creative.”

Shew said that leading up to elections he is frequently asked why his office can’t simply publish sample ballots in the newspaper. Even prior to redistricting, the intricacies of boundaries made it impractical to offer ballot information without knowing a voter’s specific address.

“That’s why we tell people to go to our website and put in your name and birthdate,” he said. “It will pull the ballot assigned to you. Your ballot might be different than the person who lives across the street.”

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The elections office is staffed by poll workers representing all political parties and unaffiliated voters. That oversight, along with multiple strategies for checking and double-checking accuracy of ballot distribution, has been designed purposefully to maintain a high level of accuracy and impartiality throughout the election process.

Ballot requests these days undergo multiple audits and verifications to be certain that voters are properly registered and receive the correct ballot.

From secure tabulation to security cameras, Shew said voting had come a long way since the 1970s and 1980s.

“I have some poll workers who have been here since then,” he said. “Back in the day you just handed out a ballot and a pencil, so that’s what we did.”

Cast your ballot in Douglas County:

Voters may request advance ballots to be mailed to them through KSVotes.org. You do not need to print and mail a form if you request a ballot through the website, and Douglas County does not require a stamp to mail your ballot back. The deadline to request a ballot by mail is Tuesday, July 26.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times

You can also drop your ballot in a dropbox. The dropboxes look like the one in the image here, and they are located outside the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.; at the county elections office at 23rd and Louisiana; at Eudora, Lecompton and Baldwin city halls; at the Golf Course Superintendents Building or at Flory Meeting Hall.

Those who use mail-in ballots have the option of using the county’s tracking system, Ballot Scout, to receive text and email updates letting voters know where their ballot is in the mail stream, and confirmation once it has been accepted.

All registered voters may vote in the primary. According to the county elections office, “Republicans and Democrats will vote their party’s ballot. Unaffiliated voters may affiliate with one of those parties at their polling place or they may vote a question-only ballot. Libertarians will vote the question-only ballot.”

Sample ballots detailing additional races included in the primary can be found online via the Kansas Secretary of State’s website.

In-person early voting is ongoing this week. Bring an ID to vote in person.

Douglas County poll hours and locations:

• 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays through Friday, July 29 at the Douglas County Elections Office, 711 W. 23rd St., Suite 1, in Lawrence (click here for a Google map)
• 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, July 30 at the elections office in Lawrence
• 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, July 30 at Lecompton City Hall, Eudora City Hall, or the Baldwin City Fire Station
• 8 a.m. to noon Monday, Aug. 1: Last chance to vote early at the elections office before polls reopen for Election Day
• 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2: Vote at your polling place on Election Day. If you’re not sure where to go, you can find your polling place by inputting your name and date of birth at this link on the Secretary of State’s website.

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Andrea Albright (she/her), reporter, can be reached at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

More coverage: August 2 Election

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