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‘At their mercy’
Mailed ballots arrive too late for some voters
mail ballots
Pictured are crates of advance mail-in ballot applications for the Aug. 4 primary and the Nov. 3 general election being loaded onto a truck at the Barton County Courthouse and unloaded at the Great Bend Post Office in June.

On July 15, the Barton County Clerk’s Office mailed out nearly 3,000 vote-by-mail ballots for the Aug. 4 primary to all registered voters in the county eligible to vote in last Tuesday’s election. It was a massive undertaking that included multiple checks and double checks to insure the integrity of the voting process.

But, there were still a handful of voters whose ballots came back as “return to sender” or who didn’t receive their packet until after election day. For some of these voters, they never had the chance to cast their ballots.

Applications for the primary ballots had gone out to the same voters a month earlier on June. 15.

“For 90% of the voters, it worked really well,” said Donna Zimmerman, county election officer and clerk. “But, that’s not much of a consolation if you’re one of the 10%.”

The Kansas Secretary of State’s Office, the state agency which oversees the electoral process, has been in contact with the United States Postal Service to express concerns. Barton County is also compiling a list of issues that need to be addressed.

“We are at their mercy,” Zimmerman said. “It’s frustrating.”

A team of two Clerk’s Office personnel delivered the ballots to the Great Bend Post Office on July 15 to make sure they were secure and would be mailed that day. They were.

However, one voter, whose legal address is Great Bend but who works in Ness City, said he received his on Aug. 5. Because he lived in Barton County, when he had not received his ballot by election day, he could have gone to a polling station and voted a provisional ballot. 

As long as ballots are postmarked on election day they will still be counted, as long as they are received by the Friday following the election.

“We want to make voting by mail possible,” Zimmerman said. “We don’t want voters to get disenfranchised.”

Supposedly, the Postal Service has assured election officials that ballots are a priority. Postal officials have apologized for the problems.

Now, the deadline to send the ballots for the Nov. 3 general election looms. “We are going to have some conversations about what we can do,” she said.

The applications for those not eligible to vote in the primary along with the November general election ballots will be mailed in the next few weeks. 

“Every vote counts,” she said. These problems may have been the exception and not the rule, but they are still troubling.

There are 16,092 registered voters in the county. There were 2,902 ballot applications sent to voters with 2,569 being returned.