Hundreds of thousands of Kansans are expected to vote by mail this election — many for the first time.
The Secretary of State’s office says that as of Oct. 22, more than 490,000 ballots had been mailed out, with still a few days left for voters to request them.
In Sedgwick County, about 87,000 voters have requested advance ballots, an all-time high, says Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman.
A recent study shows voters with no experience voting by mail have a higher likelihood of having their ballot rejected. Before you send your ballot on its way, here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure your vote is counted next month:
Be mindful of deadlines. The last day you can request an advance ballot from your county election office is Tuesday, Oct. 27. You can submit your request online, by mail or by fax.
If you requested a mail-in ballot, don't try to vote in person. If you're having second thoughts about voting by mail and go to an election site to vote in person, "you're going to be marked in the poll book that you've already been issued a ballot, whether you've returned that ballot or not," Lehman says. "Kansas law does not allow you to just keep casting ballots."
You'll be issued a provisional ballot and will have to fill out a new voter registration card — a longer process for you and for election workers, she says. Her advice: "If you’ve requested a ballot by mail, it is best to vote that ballot."
Follow instructions. They’re on the envelope the election office uses to send you your ballot, on the ballot itself, and on the envelope you return your ballot in, says Lehman.
"Just read those instructions and follow them," she said.
Use the correct pen. Sharpies can bleed through to the other side of the ballot, making it look like you voted for a candidate you didn’t intend to, Lehman says. Her office prefers black ballpoint pen.
"Don’t make any extra marks on your ballot," she said.
Fill in the oval next to the candidate you’re voting for. Checkmarks usually can’t be read by a machine, so those ballots have to be counted by hand.
If you do make a mistake on your ballot or want to change your vote, you can request a new ballot from the election office. Otherwise, make it very clear that you’ve made a mistake: "Cross it out, write, 'I don’t want to vote for this person,' and fill in the oval so we know what your voter intent is," Lehman said.
A bipartisan team reviews those types of ballots to determine the vote — so don’t leave any ambiguity.
Don’t forget to sign your envelope, or, if you’re physically incapable of signing, make sure it’s signed on your behalf.
If you forget to sign your envelope, or if your signature doesn’t match what the election office has on record, Lehman says her office will let you know. You’ll have until the election canvass scheduled for Nov. 13 to "cure" your ballot.
"We will alert you if there is an issue," Lehman said, "but it will make it go a lot faster for all of us if you just make sure it’s signed from the very beginning."
Send your ballot back on time — and don’t forget a stamp. In Sedgwick County, mailing your completed ballot back requires only one stamp, but some other counties require more. Check with your local election office to be sure.
The USPS recommends mailing your ballot back at least a week before Election Day to make sure it arrives on time; it must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and arrive at the election office by the following Friday to be counted. But Lehman says the earlier you send it, the better.
"When we have that last-minute glut of people getting ballots back in late, there’s a lot of signatures to verify," she said. "So if you know who you’re gonna vote for, get it done, get it taken care of, don’t delay."
You can also skip the mailbox altogether and drop off your advance ballot at one of 14 secure drop boxes around the county, or at an early voting location (ballots can only be accepted when voting is occurring and an election official is on site). Ballots can also be dropped off at a voting site on Election Day.
You can track the status of your advance ballot through the Secretary of State’s website.