JoCo election commissioner says ‘we are ready’ for Aug. 4 primaries, provides tips for returning mail-in ballots

Voters who recently received their mail-in ballots are encouraged to drop them off at the Johnson County Election Office or a polling place to ensure they are counted in time. Prompt mail service is crucial to mail-in voting in Kansas, because there are time limits on how long before an election the ballots can be mailed to voters and how long after an election they can still be counted.

Voters who recently received their mail-in ballots are encouraged to drop them off at the Johnson County Election Office or a polling place, rather than putting them in the mail, said county Election Commissioner Connie Schmidt.

Schmidt updated county commissioners on preparations for Tuesday’s primary, stressing that everything is in place for successful voting and tallying. “We are ready for next Tuesday,” when in-person voting is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. “It is the finale for us for the most unusual election in this county’s history.”

Prompt mail service is crucial to mail-in voting in Kansas, because there are time limits on how long before an election the ballots can be mailed to voters and how long after an election they can still be counted. Even those that are returned with a postmark not later than Tuesday must arrive by Aug. 7 to be counted.

Handing them off at an election office or polling site ensures that slow mail will not keep the ballot from being counted. Mailed ballots can be dropped off at the box in front of the Olathe election office or at any advance or Election Day polling places.

“We want to be sure to count every vote,” she said.

Mail slowdown

A mail slowdown has been a concern recently because of an internal postal service memo that advised employees to leave mail for the next day, rather than making another trip to deliver it.

Slow mail was also an issue in Johnson County in the 2016 presidential election, when numerous students who wanted to vote from out-of-state campuses had trouble getting their ballots on time. Former Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker railed against the slow service at that time.

This year mail-in ballot requests have exceeded expectations, with a little more than 106,000 requested as of Wednesday, Schmidt said. Advance ballots by mail also set a record statewide, with 312,515 requested. Johnson County accounted for 34 percent of that, Schmidt said.

She also cautioned voters to be careful to put ballots in the correct signed envelopes. Applications have to have signatures and ID’s verified before a ballot goes out and the ballots are sent with specified envelopes. If someone puts a ballot into the wrong envelope, it could result in the vote being disqualified, although efforts will be made to contact voters when that happens, she said.

In-person voting precautions

Meanwhile preparations are in place for in-person voting, Schmidt said. No senior citizen centers will be among the 167 polling places this year, but despite efforts to recruit a younger age group, older people still make up a large contingent of poll workers. Schmidt said 833 poll workers have been recruited ranging from 16 to 90 years old. However 71 percent of the workers are over 60, she said. That includes two sets of grandparents and grandchildren who will work together.

Polling places will be well stocked with sneeze shields between voters and poll workers, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies and masks that will be available to voters upon request, she said.  Voters will not be asked to reuse styluses or pens but will take them home. Election workers cannot require voters wear masks to cast a ballot, though.

On election night, the first results will be advance in-person and mailed ballots, with voting machine totals being updated as they come in.

Commissioner Mike Brown expressed his confidence in Schmidt, a former county election commissioner who is filling in Metsker’s vacancy this year. “I have a high degree of confidence in you, Ms. Schmidt,” he said. “It definitely calms people to know I trust you and count on you when I tell them that.”