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Kansas GOP lawmakers revive a plan to stop giving voters 3 extra days to return mail ballots


TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators in Kansas have revived a proposal to stop giving voters three extra days after polls close to return mail ballots after making key concessions in a bid to get enough votes from rural GOP lawmakers to overcome the Democratic governor's potential veto.

Republicans have argued that allowing election officials to count ballots received after Election Day undermines people’s confidence in the results, through there’s no evidence that the practice has led to fraud or serious mistakes. The Republican-controlled Legislature expects to take final votes this week on a version of the proposal drafted Monday by GOP negotiators for the House and Senate.

The push to end the “grace period” arose as election conspiracy promoters gained influence within the Kansas GOP. They have spread baseless claims that elections are rife with fraud and amplified ex-President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.

Some rural Republicans have resisted because the policy was enacted in 2017 in response to concerns that U.S. mail delivery was getting slower in their districts.

House Elections Committee Chair Pat Proctor, a Republican from northwest of the Kansas City area, said people are suspicious when the result flips in a close election as vote counting continues after Election Day.

“I don’t think that our votes are less secure because we take ballots after Election Day — which I know some Republicans do believe to be the case — but it does create doubt," he said after Monday's negotiations.

More than 30 states require mail ballots to arrive by Election Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Among the remaining states, deadlines vary from 5 p.m. the day after polls close in Texas to no set deadline in Washington state.

The latest version of the Kansas proposal would wait until the start of 2025 to end the grace period and add two extra days to advance voting, so people could start voting in person at election offices and receive mail ballots 22 days before an election, instead of the current 20. Also, county offices would have to be open for advance, in-person voting for at least four hours the Saturday before an election.

Those provisions are designed to win over skeptical rural Republicans and garner the two-thirds majorities in both chambers needed to override a governor's veto.

“We would love to be able to get rid of the three-day grace period and take care of all of this right now,” said Sen. Mike Thompson, a Kansas City-area Republican and his chamber’s lead negotiator on elections legislation. “We know that the governor may veto this, so we have to have those votes.”

Voting rights advocates argue that giving Kansas voters less time to return their ballots could disenfranchise thousands of poor, disabled and older voters and people of color. Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a bill to end the grace period last year, and Republican leaders didn't have the two-thirds majorities in both chambers needed to reverse her action.

“The law was working with the three-day grace period,” said Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, of Wichita, who represented Democratic senators in the negotiations.

Last month, the Senate considered a bill that would have required mail ballots to arrive by the time polls close, 7 p.m. in most counties. Senators promoting baseless election conspiracies added provisions to ban electronic vote tabulating and ballot drop boxes, splitting Republicans and dooming the package.

More recently, Republicans who support ending the grace period have contended that when some ballots arrive at election offices without postmarks to confirm when they were mailed, local officials aren't legally allowed to count them, and that disenfranchises those voters.

It's not clear how often that happens because the state hasn't collected any data, though the Kansas secretary of state's office, which oversees elections, has asked county officials to compile it this year. Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a Republican who nevertheless vouches for the state's elections, is neutral on ending the grace period.

Faust-Goudeau said that if it is a problem, “We can certainly add a measure that says we don’t need that postmark.”