Kansas Democrats hope primary encourages balloting by mail

By JOHN HANNA – Associated Press – Saturday, May 2, 2020

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas Democrats hope vote counting from Saturday’s party-run presidential primary goes smoothly to show that the state can rely far more heavily on mail ballots later this year.

Top Democrats anticipate former Vice President Joe Biden will prevail in Kansas’ voting and capture a majority of national convention delegates, given that other candidates, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have suspended their campaigns and endorsed him. Voting began in late March, with Sanders on the ballot, along with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and an option to remain uncommitted.

State Chairwoman Vicki Hiatt said voters returned about 140,000 ballots by mid-week after the party mailed them to more than 400,000 registered voters. Results are expected Sunday morning.

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The turnout already is more than three times the 39,000 votes cast in 2016 caucuses won handily by Sanders over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. About 156,000 votes were cast in the 2018 Democratic primary for governor.

Democrats had planned to set up polling places across the state but concluded the sites would be too risky during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think that is the trend, that we’re going to see a real focus on mail balloting,” Hiatt said, adding there’s urgency for moving to mail ballots “just for safety reasons.”

The contest also featured ranked-choice voting, allowing voters to pick more than one candidate and rank them. The lowest vote-getter is eliminated, and their votes redistributed to the other choices in a second round if voters listed a second choice. That process continues until only candidates with at least 15% of the vote remain.

The results will allocate 39 of Kansas’ 45 delegates to Democrats’ national presidential nominating convention. The other six are party leaders.

Kansas’ next election is its Aug. 4 primary, and state law prevents it from being done exclusively through mail balloting. However, the law also allows voters to request mail ballots for any reason, and Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a Republican, is encouraging people to ask for them, spokeswoman Katie Koupal said.

Some Democrats have long argued for greater use of mail balloting as a way to boost turnout, but some Republicans remain wary, suggesting it would not be as secure.

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This story has been corrected to show that in ranked-choice voting, only the lowest vote-getter is knocked out after the first round, not all candidates with less than 15% of the vote.

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