What you need to know about provisional ballots in Kansas
Checking your voter registration before the deadline is a good idea, especially if you've moved or had a name change since you last registered.
Every vote counts, the saying goes.
But that may not always be the case if you end up casting a provisional ballot, particularly if you’ve moved from one Kansas county to another, according to past election statistics.
Provisional ballots are the paper ballots that voters cast at a polling place if there’s a question about their eligibility to vote. There are several reasons that trigger a provisional ballot, from not having proper photo ID to a different name or address than what’s on the poll books to the issuing of an advance ballot for the election.
In the 2018 general election, 50% of the rejected provisional ballots in Kansas were due to a voter not re-registering to vote when they moved to a different county, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit watchdog organization. Registering to vote after the deadline is another major reason provisional ballots are rejected. (This year’s deadline is Oct. 18.)
In Kansas, provisional ballots accounted for approximately 2.7% of the ballots cast in the 2018 general election. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s 29,000 ballots.
Provisional ballots are not included in Election Day tallies and require a lengthier procedure to review and process.
First, the reason for the provisional ballot must be stated on the envelope in which the ballot is sealed at the polling place. Then, once all the provisional ballots are collected, the staff in county election offices sort the ballots by categories that triggered their issuance.
Finally, the staff makes a recommendation to the county’s board of canvassers on whether to accept the ballot. In Kansas, county commissioners act as the canvassing boards, which meet several days after an election to certify election results.
Davis Hammet, founder of the Topeka-based civic democracy advocacy organization Loud Light, calls provisional ballots “a good thing” because they offer a pathway for voters in particular circumstances. He pointed out that Kansas, however, does not have a uniform, statewide system on categorizing and accepting provisional ballots.
So what should you do to make sure your vote counts in the upcoming Nov. 8 general election?
If you’ve registered to vote before but have changes to your name or address, you need to re-register to vote by Oct. 18, the same date all new voters need to be registered. (Voters should also re-register if they have a change in party affiliation, but that won’t matter in the upcoming general election since everyone receives the same ballot. Party affiliation matters in primary elections in Kansas.)
If you do end up casting a provisional ballot, you should receive a receipt with a phone number that you can call to see whether your vote was indeed counted, Hammet advised.
The state’s highest offices – governor, attorney general, secretary of state and insurance commissioner – are on the Nov. 8 ballot, along with all representatives (not senators) to the Legislature and half of the 10 State Board of Education seats. Voters will also be asked to weigh in on two efforts to change the state’s constitution. One would give the Legislature oversight on procedures and regulations now set by the executive branch, while the other deals with ensuring all currently elected sheriff’s positions remain elective offices.
Important election deadlines and voter registration FAQs
Through interviews with election officials and culling election office websites, The Journal has compiled important election deadlines and frequently asked questions about voter registration.
Important deadlines for the upcoming election are:
- Oct. 18: Deadline to register to vote. By law, voter registration closes 21 days before any election.
- Oct. 19: Advance voting by mail begins.
- Nov. 1: Deadline to apply for an advance mail ballot. The deadline is always seven days in advance of an election.
- Nov. 7: Deadline to vote in person in advance. Kansas allows voters to vote in advance in person at county election offices or satellite polling sites up to 20 days before an election. The deadline for in-person advance voting is noon the day before Election Day. Check with your local election office for details.
- Nov. 8: General election. State law requires polls to open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Some counties may open polls as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 8 p.m. Anyone in line at 7 p.m. must be allowed to vote.
Who can vote in Kansas?
Any U.S. citizen who is a resident of Kansas and not convicted of a disqualifying felony is eligible to vote. A person convicted of a federal or state felony loses their right to vote until the sentence is completed. Once a sentence is completed, the individual can apply to become a voter. Anyone declared ineligible by a court of law is also not able to vote.
How do I register to vote?
There are several ways: online through the official state voter website; online through nonpartisan, third-party websites; in person at a county election office or other registration site; or by filling out a paper form and mailing it in.
Whatever method you use, you need a valid driver’s license or a Kansas state ID to verify your identity.
Besides the official state of Kansas site for voter registration (https://www.kdor.ks.gov/apps/voterreg/home/index), there are third-party voter websites that provide voter registration applications. Popular sites include rockthevote.org, the League of Women Voters Education Fund’s vote411.org and ksvotes.org.
Among third-party sites, Harvey County clerk Rick Piepho recommends ksvotes.org.
“I like theirs the best because it sends the completed application to both (the individual and the election office),” he said. Other sites may not send a confirmation that the application was submitted.
Some county election offices partner with entities such as a public library or a city clerk’s office, where registration applications can be filled out. Most county election office websites offer the option to download a PDF of the voter registration application that can be filled out and mailed or delivered in person. There’s also a Spanish-language version of the application.
To ensure eligibility, election offices check the names of applicants against names listed with the Kansas Department of Corrections and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the state agency responsible for tracking births and deaths.
How can I register to vote if my 18th birthday falls this year between the Oct. 18 deadline to register and Election Day?
Kansas has a process that allows 17-year-olds to register to vote. That registration becomes active if the person turns 18 on or before Election Day.
How can I check my voter registration information and make changes if I need to?
The Kansas Secretary of State has an online database to view your registration information that also includes your polling place and voting information (i.e. state, county and city districts). You can find it at https://myvoteinfo.voteks.org/voterview.
Voters must re-register to vote if they’ve had a name or address change or want to change their party affiliation. The deadline for changes is Oct. 18.
Like the official state voter registration site, third-party voter information sites like rockthevote.org, vote411.org and ksvotes.org also allow you to check voter registration information and status and re-register to vote. You can even request advance or absentee ballots through those sites.
Can I still vote if I missed the Oct. 18 deadline to re-register and update my voter registration information?
Yes, but you’ll use a provisional ballot. At the time of voting, you’ll have to complete a voter registration application and then you’ll be given the paper provisional ballot.
I moved within county lines in Kansas; where should I go to vote?
Voters who have moved within 30 days prior to the election can vote at their previous polling location but they need to complete an affidavit of former precinct resident at that polling location, according to Angela Caudillo, the Sedgwick County election commissioner.
If a voter has moved within 30 days before the election and has not updated their registration, they can still vote at their new polling location but on a provisional ballot not on a machine.
I moved from one county to another county in Kansas, how do I vote?
Again, the key deadline is Oct. 18 for you to complete your new voter registration. If you didn’t do that, you can travel to vote at the precinct of your old address but you’ll be asked to fill out a new voter registration and cast a provisional ballot.
I moved to Kansas from another state, what do I do?
If it’s 45 days before the election and the deadline to register has passed, you can’t vote in this election. (You could cast a president-only ballot if the presidential election was involved.)
What is a provisional ballot and does it count on Election Day?
It’s a paper ballot provided whenever there’s a question about your eligibility to vote. That could be because you didn’t re-register with your name or address change, your voter record shows you were already issued a ballot (i.e. in advance) or you lack a photo ID to vote. You’ll be given the ballot and once completed it’s sealed in an envelope with the eligibility reason noted on it, and then two poll workers (one from each party as part of the bipartisan checks and balances) will note you voted provisionally in the poll book.
Provisional ballots are not counted on Election Day but are taken into consideration when your county’s board of canvassers meets to certify election results.
My child, who still lists my home as their permanent address, went off to college. How can they vote?
Voters who are not in the area at the time of election can request an advance by mail ballot that is mailed to the address where they are staying. The deadline to make such a request is Nov. 1, but the earlier the better “to give voters the most time to receive, complete and mail back their ballot,” said Caudillo.
Is there a difference between an advance by mail or absentee ballot?
No, it’s just a different name for the same thing – a ballot you fill out in advance because you’ll be absent from the polls on Election Day. While the deadline to request such a ballot is Nov. 1, it’s best to make it as soon as you can to ensure you get the ballot and return it in time for it to count.
If you’re a college student away from home or a U.S. citizen living or traveling outside the U.S. at the time of the election, you’ll want to request such a ballot. To make a request, visit your county elections office website. The third-party voter sites rockthevote.org and ksvotes.org also provide the ability to request an advance ballot.
I requested an advance by mail ballot but didn’t return it in time so can I go to the polls instead?
Yes, but you’ll have to vote by provisional ballot.
What if I have mobility issues or am disabled? How can I vote? Can I still go to the polls?
Polling places in Kansas must offer curbside voting for people who are elderly or who have disabilities. Volunteers, one from each political party, are designated to provide the voter with a ballot at a designated spot outside the polling place.
If your disability prevents you from getting to the polls, sign up for an advance by mail ballot (by the deadline of Nov. 1). Voters with disabilities can make what’s called a permanent advance by mail request so all future ballots are mailed to them, according to Harvey County’s Piepho.
Does party affiliation matter on my voter record for this Nov. 8 election?
It does not. That’s because it’s a general election and every voter gets the same ballot. In Kansas, party affiliation matters when it comes to a primary election, when candidates within a party are running against each other to determine who moves on to the general election. Kansas has four party affiliation choices: Democratic, Libertarian, Republican or none.
Are voters ever removed from voter rolls?
The short answer is yes, but it’s dictated by Kansas law.
One of the most common reasons for removing a voter is because the voter has died. The Sedgwick County elections office, for example, uses several methods to check for the deaths of voters, according to Caudillo.
“We search and review obituaries and receive notices from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Often families will notify us of a death of their loved one. In these instances, we request that the notifying party provide either a copy of a published obituary or a death certificate as required by law for removal,” she said in an email interview.
In May 2022, new election security legislation was signed that is meant to improve the accuracy of voter rolls, according to the Kansas secretary of state’s office.
“For example, the voter may be removed from the voter rolls if the voter has had no election-related activity for four years, an address confirmation notice is returned ‘undeliverable,’ and the voter has no election-related activity for an additional two federal election cycles,” according to a release from the secretary of state’s office.
Where can I find more information about voting?
Additional information can be found at https://sos.ks.gov/elections/elections-faq.html.
This story was originally published by The Journal, part of the Kansas Leadership Center. It is published here as part of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, an organization of 10 media and public partners, including KMUW.