Fort Hays State University political science professor Chapman Rackaway claimed that Kansas elections are poorly administered (April 27 Opinion). Rackaway relied on a recent Pew Charitable Trusts report in making his claims.
However, Rackaway failed to do his homework, resulting in a misleading commentary in several respects:
• Comparing apples to oranges. The Pew report shows Kansas having a large increase in rejected “provisional ballots,” which Rackaway said was a problem. However, in Kansas we issue a provisional ballot in every situation where the voter’s status is in question. We do this (rather than turning the voter away) in order to protect the voter. Many states don’t. They only use provisional ballots in limited situations. Consequently, comparing Kansas’ percentage of provisional ballots to those of other states is like comparing apples to oranges. If Rackaway had done his research, he’d have known that.
• Military ballots. Rackaway also suggested that military ballots are not being administered well, without providing any details. However, the Pew report shows that the opposite is true. In 2008 the percent of military and overseas ballots rejected in Kansas was 10.1 percent. By 2012 we’d reduced that to 5.7 percent – a 44 percent decrease.
Furthermore, Kansas is among the minority of states that allow military voters to return their voted ballots by e-mail, not just receive them by e-mail. In 2010 I promised I’d ensure that all military personnel could vote easily. I’ve made good on that promise.
• Voter participation. Rackaway’s analysis of voter participation was particularly sloppy. He said that voter turnout was lower in 2012 than in 2010. He also said that “changing registration laws impact turnout greatly.” However, the proof-of-citizenship requirement went into effect in January 2013, after the 2012 election, so it had no effect whatsoever on 2012 turnout.
The biggest factor driving voter participation is dueling between large campaigns. In 2012 there was no statewide campaign engaging in get-out-the-vote efforts. So if we compare 2012 with 2000, the last comparable year, we see that voter turnout was nearly identical: 66.8 percent in 2012 and 66.7 percent in 2000.
• Low wait times. Rackaway also ignored what voters notice most at the polls: how long the line is. Kansas is doing extremely well in this regard. According to an MIT study, our average wait time was only 10 minutes in 2012, well below the national average of 13.3 minutes. One reason that voting is so fast in Kansas is that we combine photo ID with electronic poll books – both reforms that I have pushed. The result is that the voter has his ID card ready, and the poll worker scans the ID quickly rather than flipping through poll-book pages.
• Nationally recognized for effectiveness. Rackaway was evidently unaware that in 2013 Google and Pew recognized the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office “for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of elections through open data.” Kansas was one of only nine states to receive this award.
• Stopping voter fraud. Finally, Rackaway ignored the fact that Kansas leads the nation in election security. In 2011 Kansas became the first state to combine photo ID, equivalent security for mail-in ballots and proof of citizenship for newly registering voters. Other states are now copying us. We’ve demonstrated that it’s possible to make it easy to vote but hard to cheat.