Shawnee Co. Commission approves Election Office’s plans to handle mail-in ballots

Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 6:34 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - With less than two months to Election Day, Shawnee Co. Election Commissioner Andrew Howell reported that about 15 thousand advance ballots by mail have already been requested by Shawnee Co. voters.

For reference, close to 20 thousand ballots were requested for the August primaries and in a typical general election, the total number of advance ballots requests ranges from 10 to 15 thousand applications.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape what casting a vote will look like, the Shawnee Co. Election Office has been making preparations to handle a large influx of requests of advance ballots by mail, which Howell projects could near 30,000.

At their meeting Monday, Shawnee Co. Commissioners unanimously approved for the Office to use $85,785 from the Coronavirus Response Fund/SPARK to purchase mail handling equipment Howell said is essential to process and ship the advance ballots, which is usually done by hand.

“We have had to upgrade our ability to process and to get those ready to go it takes quite a bit of time to make sure that every person is getting the exact ballot they’re supposed to get,” Howell said.

The equipment includes heavy duty printers, folders, inserters and mail openers, all similar to the system Sedgwick County uses.

Howell said people should feel comfortable voting in Shawnee County.

“We track every ballot that we send out so if we’re sending out a ballot in the mail we know that we’ve only sent out one and we know that we should only be receiving one back so there are a lot of steps in the process that we use to make sure that we’re only allowing one vote to be cast,” he said.

“Additionally, election workers there are Republicans and Democrats at every place across the county on election day so additionally for mail-in ballots we also match signatures to make sure it’s a match internally.”

Commissioners also approved for the Election Office to spend $55 thousand  from the Coronavirus Relief Fund on postcards to send to each of the county’s nearly 105 thousand registered voters that clearly explains the three methods they have to cast a vote: through an advance ballot by mail, early voting at the Election Office and in-person at one’s polling place on Election Day.

Howell said it’s an attempt to clear up confusion caused by some mailers sent from interest groups.

“There are other people filling out requests for ballot forms, application forms they do have our address on the envelope, so I think people assume unfortunately on occasion that that comes from us,” he said.

Howell noted the Election Office has not mailed out any information on advance ballots by mail for the general election at this time.

The office will also launch a new website for people to find out where they are at in the voting process.

“We think it’s important for people to know how to keep track of where you can vote, different methods to vote, are you registered on time, where’s my ballot in the process if I requested one .”

The postcards are expected to be mailed out the week of September 21, which is also when the website is expected to launch.

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