For the recent primary election, the availability of mail-in ballots was a good option for Barton County voters.
People could study their ballots, complete them at their leisure, tack on $1 in postage and drop them in the mail. The envelopes could also be dropped off at the courthouse in person, saving the cost of the stamps. Either way, voters could avoid election day lines and the possibility of exposure to the novel coronavirus.
Early voting at the courthouse was also an option, along with the tried and true method of going to the polls. Using safety precautions such as face masks, shields, sanitizing and social distancing, it seems unlikely that Tuesday’s event – which involved thousands of Barton County residents – will result in the next “cluster” of COVID-19 positives.
With all of these options, it’s a shame that more of us didn’t vote. Still, the 38.34% turnout of registered voters was better than usual. On July 31, Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab reported the projected turnout would be 28%.
“The turnout projection is based on several factors including turnout data, advance voting figures, registered voters in Kansas, and competitive races involving turnout,” Schwab said. “The Secretary of State’s Office acknowledged the pandemic has created several unique factors not present in prior elections.”
And, because it was a primary, 25% of Barton County’s registered voters couldn’t vote, because they were not affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic parties, and thus had no primary in which to vote.
Mail ballots aren’t new. They were first widely used by soldiers during the Civil War and in later years were made available to civilians who were sick or disabled or away from home on election day. Since 1996, Kansas has allowed all voters to request an advance mail ballot without needing an excuse.
Plan now to vote in the general election in November.
On Oct. 14, advance voting by mail and in-person voting at the courthouse may begin for the November 3 general election. Oct. 27 is the deadline for voters to apply for advance mail ballots in that election.
Back in May, Barton County Election Officer Donna Zimmerman said the county was eligible to receive more than $24,000 in federal grants funding reimbursements for COVID-19-related election expenses. That was used for personal protection equipment (PPE) for the polling places. Zimmerman’s office also launched the “Vote From Home 2020” campaign where each registered voter in the county was mailed an advanced ballot application for the primary and the general election. So, many Barton County residents already know they will receive an advance ballot in October.
Here in Barton County, it is not difficult to vote if you want to. Remember, free and fair elections are the foundation of a healthy democracy.
— Susan Thacker is news editor of the Great Bend Tribune