Vote centers just make sense for Kansas

Julie Doll
Special to Gannett Kansas

I became a fan of vote centers on Election Day 2004.

I was working in Lafayette, Indiana, at the time, and my plan was to stop by my precinct’s designated polling place on the way to work.

The line was so long that even though I built an extra hour into the schedule to vote, I was still more than an hour late to my job.

After that, Indiana made it easy on me and thousands of other voters. It started using vote centers, first in Tippecanoe County, where I lived, and then elsewhere around the state.

When I moved to Kansas in 2012, I was glad to find that Sedgwick County also had adopted measures to make voting more accessible.

It had established advance vote centers that made it easy for me to stop by and cast my ballot a few days before election day.

Kansas lawmakers last year voted to take such common-sense, voter-friendly measures statewide. But Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab has slammed the brakes on progress.

Kansas is not ready for such a new-fangled thing, he claims. Even though the Legislature approved a law to allow counties to use vote centers, Schwab argues he needs more time to write all the regulations.

Under the new law, counties are authorized to set up vote centers that accept any voter from that county. Instead of being forced to vote at a designated polling site for your precinct, you can choose the site most convenient to you. That might be near your kid’s school, on the way to get groceries or down the street from your job.

In Indiana, vote centers eased long lines. Through news media websites and social media, voters could learn where lines were shorter in real time.

In the runup to elections, Tippecanoe County had advance vote centers at nursing homes, grocery stores and other places selected by local election officials. Officials found vote centers were cheaper to operate, required fewer election workers and increased turnout.

Sedgwick County has been using only advance vote centers — sites open in the days running up to the election. With the new Kansas law, it’s ready to expand the use of vote centers to Election Day.

In an era when so many people commute, work long hours and have overfilled work-and-family schedules, vote centers make uncommonly good sense.

Government’s job is to provide necessary services in ways that are financially efficient and convenient for citizens. But that’s not happening in Kansas. Not only is the secretary of state dragging his feet on statewide implementation, Schwab also seems to be prohibiting local officials who are ready from using vote centers.

This isn’t some brave new advance in election technology.

It wasn’t even new when Tippecanoe County introduced vote centers more than a decade ago, because by then Colorado already had vote centers figured out and working.

The babble of excuses regarding system security are flimsy at best and suspicious at least. Election fraud is rare, but in the cases documented, the culprits most often exploit vulnerabilities with old-fashioned paper ballots, usually absentee ballots.

Kansas lawmakers should act expeditiously to compel state politicians to get out of the way of counties that are ready and willing to make voting easier and more accessible for their citizens.

A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas.