Lawmakers discuss election fraud claims, ‘ballot mules’ conspiracy theory
TOPEKA — Election officials debunked ideas of so-called ballot mules stuffing dozens of votes into drop boxes, reassuring lawmakers Tuesday that the boxes are already secure during a hearing fraught with election security concerns and misinformation.
During a House Elections Committee hearing, House Bill 2057 was opposed by a slew of election officers and voting rights advocacy groups questioned the need for the legislation. They included Loud Light, the Disability Rights Center of Kansas and the Kansas African American Affairs Commission.
Drop box security
The legislation would impose strict regulations on remote ballot boxes. County election offices with populations of less than 30,000 would be allowed to use only one remote ballot box per election. For county election offices in areas with more than 30,000 people, another box would be granted for each additional group of 30,000. The remote box would have to be under continual observation by an employee or via video, and closed when the election office is closed.
The video recording would have to be situated so the faces of people dropping off the ballots into the box would be recorded, and the recording would be kept for a year, available for public record, among other stipulations. Critics of the bill say it’s unnecessary, would block Kansans from their democratic right to vote and would prove costly for local election offices, which pay for elections.
Mike Taylor, who spoke on behalf of the Kansas County Commissioners Association, which represents the elected commissioners in all 105 counties, said the organization opposed the legislation on many grounds and felt it would harm voter privacy.
“We are opposing this bill because we think it’s going to disenfranchise many, many voters who depend on easy access to those drop boxes,” Taylor said. “We also think it’s going to add a lot of unneeded expense to the counties and taxpayers.”
The only person who spoke in favor of the bill during the meeting was an out-of-state speaker, Madeline Malisa from the Opportunity Solutions Project.
When asked if there was any evidence of ballot box tampering in the state, Malisa said she hadn’t heard of anything in Kansas but thought the lack of evidence could be due to the lack of ballot box video surveillance.
Rep. Kenneth Collins, R-Mulberry, asked county election officials if they had heard of any “mules” harassing people trying to drop off votes. Committee Vice Chair Rep. Paul Waggoner, a Hutchinson Republican, also brought up mules, a conservative term for people who are paid to cast illegal ballots.
“I think part of the concern that’s kind of driven bills like this has been partly the whole notion of what are called mules, as far as that somehow somebody’s going to stuff a ballot box akin to, you know, there was a documentary called ‘2,000 Mules’ that came out a year ago,” Waggoner said.
“2,000 Mules,” a debunked film from right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza, falsely claims there was significant voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election. The movie’s makers have been sued for defamation.
Election officials said they weren’t aware of any issues with drop boxes during the 2020 and 2022 elections, in terms of people trying to tamper with boxes or in terms of ballot security.
Rep. Cindy Neighbor, D-Shawnee, questioned the need for additional ballot box security measures.
“From our secretary of state, it doesn’t appear that we’ve had a problem with them,” Neighbor said. “And the ones we are seeing are extremely secure. And that’s why I wanted clarity on how this was happening in Kansas.”
Other voting legislation
Stacey Knoell, executive director of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission, said she was one of 14,917 people who voted by drop box in Johnson County during the 2021 election.
Knoell said she objected to the bill and other recently introduced legislation, such as House Bill 2056, which would require all advance ballots to be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day, eliminating the three-day window currently in place.
“I think it is part of the government’s job to make voting as accessible and as equitable as we can for people who need to vote,” Knoell said. “I want to reiterate what another conferee said: If we take this bill in conjunction with other bills, we’re just making it more difficult to vote for various reasons. We’re not having a three-day extended period. I just oppose these upon the moral stance that we need to make it more easy for people to vote in this country.”
HB 2056 was voted on during the meeting and garnered enough votes to pass favorably out of the committee, despite some objections from lawmakers.
Neighbor said she believed the bill would harm overseas soldiers who didn’t get their ballots sent back on time, through no fault of their own, and felt it harmed constitutional rights.
Another bill considered during the hearing was better received. House Bill 2053 would authorize the secretary of state to adopt rules and regulations for returning advance voting ballots to remote ballot boxes.
The secretary of state would use existing resources to provide procedure training for county election officials, work with the public to ensure knowledge of remote ballot box requirements, and include dates, times and locations for drop-box protocol.
The legislation was supported by Secretary of State Scott Schwab’s office, with staffer Clay Barker saying regulations would provide physical security standards for drop boxes, chain of custody, disability access and would protect county election officers by ensuring they have met the proper standards for drop-off ballot procedures.
Election officials and a spokeswoman from the League of Women Voters of Kansas said they also supported the bill, as it would clear up confusion and provide better guidelines.
Barker said the regulations would also hopefully alleviate election security concerns.
“There is concern out there about drop boxes, ‘2,000 Mules,’ ballot harvesting, and this is a way to respond to it,” Barker said.
The Big Lie
Many Republicans at the national and local level have denied the results of the 2020 election, casting doubt on election security. Schwab has bucked this trend by repeatedly underscoring the security of Kansas elections, including in the 2022 midterms.
Other Kansas Republicans have called for more stringent voting security measures despite a lack of evidence for widespread voter fraud. Proposed voting restrictions have drawn criticism from groups who say many of the new bills would disenfranchise voters.
When asked if he was concerned about voters’ rights, committee chairman Pat Proctor, a Leavenworth Republican, said he was trying to walk the line between addressing vulnerabilities in the system and making the voting process more difficult.
Proctor also said that lawmakers needed to find new ways of inspiring election deniers to trust the system again.
When asked why additional ballot box security was needed, he compared the issue to 9/11 and said there is nothing to prevent people from throwing chains around drop boxes and dragging them off with trucks.
“Well, you know, on Sept. 11, 2001, I bet people really wished they had locked the cabins on airplanes on Sept. 10, but it was too late,” Proctor said. “If we’ve identified vulnerabilities, it’s ridiculous that we would not try to address those vulnerabilities until we’ve got evidence that they’ve been exploited in the election.”