Kansans are used to dropping off mail or dropping off packages, and if state officials have their way, they may soon get used to dropping off their ballot.
Expanding the use of secure ballot drop boxes has gained steam nationally in response to COVID-19 and concerns about the U.S. Postal Service, and Kansas is no exception.
Gov. Laura Kelly said last week that the secretary of state would be authorizing counties to use two additional drop boxes ahead of the November election.
She encouraged counties to take advantage of the provision, including using federal CARES Act dollars to purchase more of the receptacles, which resemble a mailbox.
"Adding more ballot drop boxes will not only lessen the public health risks that will come from gathering in long lines at polling places, but by sending fewer ballots through the mail will also lessen the burden on the United States Postal Service," Kelly said at a Statehouse news conference.
But the practice in other states has drawn criticism from Republicans — chiefly President Donald Trump.
Trump’s campaign, alongside the Republican National Committee and conservative lawmakers, filed suit over the use of drop boxes in Pennsylvania. They alleged, with little evidence, that the practice is ripe for fraud and should be barred.
The matter has been put on pause while state legislators in Pennsylvania sort out potential changes to its election code, including banning drop boxes altogether.
But in Kansas, Republicans appear to take a different approach to the practice.
While lawmakers elsewhere have said allowing for drop boxes was a mistake, Kansas officials from both parties frame them as a way of helping voters.
Sen. Elaine Bowers, R-Concordia, said she even used the practice while casting her primary election ballot in Cloud County.
Bowers, chair of the Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee, said the practice was a boon for those in rural areas, such as herself, and that it gave voters more confidence in the elections process because they could see the ballot being deposited.
"We’re not reliant on the post office, we’re reliant on ourselves," Bowers said. "I’m not controversial in these things. I am ’do the right thing,’ and this seems to do that."
That is a far different message than the one being pushed by Trump.
"So now the Democrats are using Mail Drop Boxes, which are a voter security disaster," Trump tweeted last month. "Among other things, they make it possible for a person to vote multiple times. Also, who controls them, are they placed in Republican or Democrat areas? They are not Covid sanitized. A big fraud!"
There is no evidence of voters using drop boxes to vote multiple times. Local election officials are also quick to underscore that the ballots deposited in a drop box are subject to the same security checks used for those sent via the mail.
Authorities in Patterson, N.J., foiled a plot to commit fraud via mail ballots during local elections earlier this year, which experts say is evidence that safeguards in place to guard against bad actors are working.
The boxes are outfitted with tamper-proof locks, one-way openings and even video monitoring to prevent malfeasance. The boxes are generally weatherproof and fireproof — one in Washington state even survived being hit by a car.
Other states have used them even before the pandemic. Roughly 75% of all ballots in Colorado are cast using the drop box system, for instance, and the percentage of voters in Washington who have used them has increased in recent years.
Kelly was dismissive of any potential concerns about fraud, comparing the lawsuit in Pennsylvania to arguments supporting the state’s voter ID law.
"It’s a talking point, but it really doesn’t have much basis in truth," she said.
Others agreed that the brouhaha over the practice was rooted in the increasingly partisan debate over the nation’s elections.
"There is so much vitriol in this campaign, so much division, that anytime there is a change it is going to be perceived as a ploy," said Rep. William Sutton, R-Gardner.
But Sutton did say he had some concerns about leaving the boxes unattended or unmonitored, saying the mass gathering of fraudulent ballots was still on his mind.
"If there are areas where the drop box can be watched, monitored in some way shape or form ... then I don’’t have a great deal of heartburn over those," he said. "Putting them up on every street corner is going to have an entirely different response from me."
Shawnee County election commissioner Andrew Howell said the county is still formulating a plan for its two drop boxes.
But security was a top priority, and Howell said he could envision the county potentially having Democratic and Republican observers manning them to answer questions from voters and allay concerns about any security risks.
While other local governments have used cameras to monitor the boxes, Howell said having boots on the ground was a better way to go.
"I do think it is important that people have confidence that funny business with mail ballot boxes does not occur," Howell said.
One potential concern is when the drop boxes will arrive. Howell said he placed the order months ago but that there was no firm date they are set to arrive in Shawnee County.
Counties that haven’t already done so could be out of luck.
"If you’re wanting ballot boxes you should have ordered them by now," Howell said.
Once they do arrive, Howell said, there "will be a lot of communication with the public" about what to expect and where the drop boxes will be located.
Like Cloud County and elsewhere, Howell said, one drop box will likely be placed outside the county election office.
Depending on the region’s size, two additional drop boxes might not move the needle much. Sutton noted that in a densely populated county, such as Johnson County, the move won’t "make a fly speck of difference."
But elsewhere in the state, things could look different, with voters potentially skeptical of mailing their ballot while also lacking enthusiasm about a potential hike to the county courthouse to hand it in.
"I think my folks at home are going to be ready for these drop boxes," Bowers said.