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MIT Report: Kansas Ranked Near Bottom For Handling Elections

Scott Canon
Kansas News Service/File photo

Kansas is one of the worst states in the country when it comes to handling its elections, according to a new report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kansas was ranked 48th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia based on how it performed in the 2016 elections.

The main factor that pushed Kansas so low was the high number of provisional ballots — about 3 percent in 2016 compared to the national average of about 1 percent.

Provisional ballots have received extra attention in Kansas because of the recent Republican primary for governor, which was too close to call a week after the election. Thousands of provisional ballots remained to be evaluated and counted after election night. The ballots ultimately extended Secretary of State Kris Kobach's lead before his opponent, Gov. Jeff Colyer, conceded on Tuesday.

According to the MIT report, large numbers of provisional ballots are not just costly, but they leave room for both conflicts of interest and controversy.

"You get a lot of what we call 'paper on the table,'" said Charles Stewart, a political science professor at MIT.

"One of the things about provisional ballots is you know who cast them," Stewart said. "Then the decision about whether [an election official] counts a provisional ballot or not can, in fact, be made in the context of knowing who that person is and maybe having a hint about what that vote is likely to say."

Before conceding, Colyer had questioned which ballots were being rejected. In Johnson County, 153 ballots were disallowed because the signatures on the envelopes of advanced voting ballots were signed by the wrong family member, according to Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker. Colyer said those votes should have been counted.

Kobach said Wednesday that the state's election process held up under the additional scrutiny brought on by the close race.

"I'm very satisfied with how things worked in terms of the election process setting aside the result," Kobach said.

He added that tight election also made the case for voter ID laws.

"The reason we have these election security measures is not only to ensure that every vote is counted that is fair and is not outweighed by a fraudulent vote," Kobach said, "but it also makes a difference in close races."

Stewart said there's a lot of research showing that voter ID laws deter some people from voting, but there are fewer examples of voter fraud.

"In a close election you're almost guaranteed to have more people deterred from voting and make a difference through their ballot than the number of people that were kept out of the polls because they were trying to commit fraud," Stewart said.

Stephan Bisaha, based at KMUW in Wichita, is an education reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @SteveBisaha. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.