COVID-19 pandemic brings changes to Kansas polling sites, increase in advance ballots

Published: Jul. 28, 2020 at 3:48 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The primary election to narrow the field in several key races at the local, state and national levels is one week from Tuesday and with it come changes for those voting in-person, whether that be early or on election day.

To date, the State of Kansas reports 308,073 advanced ballots have been sent by mail, up from 49,181 in a same-day comparison in the 2018 primary leading up to the mid-term election. If you plan on voting by mail, you should request a ballot now.

“Today (Tuesday, July 28) is the final day to request one, so we need to have that request in our office by midnight tonight in order to mail the ballot out by tomorrow, to give the voter time to get it, vote it, and return it,” said Sedgwick County Deputy Election Commissioner Melissa Schnieders

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Schnieders said the Sedgwick County Election Office has mailed out more ballots than ever.

“We had about six times the normal request,” she said. “Typically, we would expect about 9,000. We’ve sent out over 52,000 with about another 2 to 3,000 to go out (Tuesday) and (Wednesday).”

For those voting in-person, when you first walk into your polling place, you’ll wait in line as usual, but will be spread six feet apart from other voters in line.

Once you make it to the front of the line, you’ll see election workers behind a sneeze guard, wearing masks, or face shields. Those election workers will not ask you to remove your maks when checking your ID.

Another change comes with the tools with which you’ll make your vote official.

“You’ll have a take-home stylus pen you’ll sign our poll book with, and then you’ll have a disposable stylus you’ll use to vote with,” Schneider said.

Voting machines are measured six feet apart and face the same direction in order to keep voters socially distanced.

Schnieders said the Sedgwick County Election Office is still looking for more help to make sure upcoming elections run safely and smoothly. Currently, the county is short on polling workers.

“We still are trying to hire about 150 election workers to fill about 135 open positions, in case we have any more cancelations,” Schnieders said.

She said some workers have canceled due to potential cOVID-19 exposure and having to quarantine.

“Our election workers are vital to our process,” Schnieders said. “We have so many voters who really prefer voting in-person on election day.”

She said fewer workers mean longer lines, which could make social distancing more difficult.

If you want to apply to be a poll worker in Sedgwick County, the election office is taking applications. You can apply on the county’s website. Schnieders said training to be a voting-site worker has moved completely online.

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