In virtual roundtable on voting rights, Rep. Davids discusses safe ways to access the polls during pandemic

Johnson County residents can still register to vote in time for the Aug. 4 primary election. The deadline is Tuesday, July 14 and registration can be completed via mail, email or even text message. File photo.

Balancing voters’ rights to access the ballot while protecting their health and safety is key to this year’s elections amid a global pandemic, said Rep. Sharice Davids in a virtual roundtable in May on voting rights with leaders of the End Citizens United and Let America Vote.

Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote, and Jason Kander, former Secretary of State in Missouri and founder of Let America Vote, led discussions with Davids on voting rights and access to the polls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Sharice Davids talks with Tiffany Muller and Jason Kander, leaders of End Citizens United and Let America Vote, in a roundtable on voting rights last month.

Davids said she had anxiety watching the news about Wisconsin voters standing in line for hours trying to access the polls in April. The “fundamental and important nature of our right to vote,” she noted.

“People should not be put in a position where they have to decide between their health and safety and exercising their right to vote, not here, not in this country,” Davids said.

Citing $400 million in CARES Act funds to help states make voting safe and accessible during the pandemic, Davids said Congress has a role to play in ensuring that voters have access to the ballot and that their votes are counted.

“I also think that we have a lot more work to do,” Davids added. “I think that at the end of the day, we need to provide the resources and mechanisms, for whether it’s vote by mail, absentee voting, early voting with tons of precautions. We have to do everything in our power to make sure that people can freely exercise their right to vote and do it in a safe way.”

Davids noted that “conversations like these need to continue to happen” to help raise awareness on voter suppression tactics.

Meanwhile, Johnson County commissioners last month voted to spend $1 million to update polling machinery.

A video of the voting rights roundtable can be viewed below:

League of Women Voters of Johnson County seeking safe ways to access the polls during COVID-19 pandemic

The League of Women Voters of Johnson County and the Kansas Coalition for Citizen Participation are also urging Secretary of State Scott Schwab to take action to ensure safe voting practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two organizations want to see expanded access to mail-in ballots, increased election transparency and safe and fair in-person voting.

Voter registration with the League of Women Voters of Johnson County will look different this year while the organization seeks alternatives to in-person registration events. League member Gloria Hiller runs a voter registration booth at Monticello Library. Photo courtesy LWVJoCo.

Amber Stenger, a spokesperson with the League of Women Voters of Johnson County, said access to the polls “includes ensuring people have vote-by-mail options and several, equitable, accessible in-person voting options.”

“Ideally, the secretary of state would automatically send mail-in ballots to all registered voters and provide postage-paid, self-adhesive return envelopes,” she said. “And ideally, voters would have several safe and convenient in-person polling places with expanded early voting periods.”

In the past, the League has helped recruit poll workers and disseminate information about where and how people can vote in Johnson and Wyandotte counties. Stenger said the organization plans to do so again this year through new voter registration tools and partnerships with civic and faith organizations in Wyandotte County to make sure voters have what they need.

“LWVJoCo has reached out to the election commissioners in Johnson and Wyandotte counties to offer our help in making voting safe, fair and accessible for all voters,” Stenger said. “We can protect voting access and prioritize public health at the same time.”