Almost 400,000 Kansas voters have requested a mail ballot as of Friday, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office, a figure that is already more than the number sent out in 2018 and 2016 combined.
Roughly 21% of all registered voters in the state have requested a mail ballot, according to the data released Monday. In some counties, including Douglas, Johnson and Sedgwick, that number is as high as 35%.
The COVID-19 pandemic has fanned the record number of requests, which dwarf the roughly 200,000 voters who asked for a mail ballot in both 2018 and 2016.
The 398,455 voters who have thus far requested a ballot also is already higher than the number for the August primary. For that election, 315,095 residents asked for a mail ballot, with 83% actually returning it.
Voters have until Oct. 13 to register to vote, with county election officials set to begin mailing ballots the next day.
Residents have until Oct. 27 to request a mail ballot and it must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, and received by Nov. 6 in order to be counted.
In Shawnee County, 20,801 voters have requested a mail ballot, roughly 18% of all registered voters in the county.
That puts the county behind other population centers, including Douglas County, which leads the state with 35% of registered voters requesting a ballot.
Davis Hammet, president of voter engagement group Loud Light, said he was less concerned about the crunch in getting mail ballots sent out as what would happen when voters mail them back ahead of the election.
Because of this, he cautioned that hand delivering mail ballots was the way to go, either by using a ballot drop box, taking it to the county elections office or delivering it to a voter’s polling place on Election Day.
"The more people that do it that way the less ballots are in the mail so the ones that are in there are able to be processed faster," Hammet said. "You just don’t have to worry about that part."
Mail voting has been a subject of controversy, first due to President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the practice is fraudulent.
Experts refute his claims, noting that the overwhelming number of issues involving mail ballots result from them being returned late or by voters not following the instructions — not fraud.
But concerns began rising in August over delays at the U.S. Postal Service and whether that might discourage mail voting.
Few issues with ballots being delayed in the mail have been reported in Kansas, however, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said controversial changes to the postal service would be put on hold until after Nov. 3.
Other states have also had snafus as they quickly attempt to roll out a vote-by-mail system.
But Hammet expressed confidence in Kansas’ procedures and noted that the state’s experiences in previous elections had helped iron out most of the kinks.
"A lot of the mistakes that states are making right now, we’ve already made those mistakes," he said. "We’ve made plenty of those mistakes and have made progress in fixing them."