By John Celock
A former Republican state legislator in Kansas is facing criticism from members of her own party for a new business she has launched that will fill out absentee ballot forms.
Former state Rep. Stephanie Sharp has launched KanVote.com, where she advertises that she will obtain a free advanced ballot form for voters and fill out the information and then mail it to the voter for signature. Sharp says that she is helping to boost voter turnout by saving time for busy professionals, while critics allege that she is being deceptive by charging for a form that is available for free. Sharp stresses that her business has been vetted by an attorney and that she’s not signing the forms or voting on anyone’s behalf.
“I know it’s all free and I am supportive of that. I created this service for people who don’t have that time,” Sharp told The Celock Report. “If you want to take the time to do that great. The reality is not everyone does. What I charge for is my time for this service.”
Sharp said that the idea for KanVote came from her husband, whose work schedule makes it tough for him to make it to the polls on election day. She said that she will print the forms off from the state elections website for him and completing them for his signature. He then suggested that she provide the service for others.
Through KanVote, a Kansas voter would sign up for the service at a cost of $10 per person, or $30 for three or more people in one household. Sharp will then obtain the forms and use a mail merge from a voter data file to merge in the person’s name, party identification and address. The data file contains publicly accessible information and is available for purchase, a common practice among political consultants nationally. Sharp will then send the completed form to a voter, who will sign it and mail it to their local elections office in an envelope provided by Sharp.
Sharp, who provides political consulting services, stressed that she is not charging for the form but rather for the time it will take her to fill out the form. She noted it is similar to other services people use.
“The ability to do it is free. What we are charging for is my service,” she said. “You can do your laundry but people dry clean. You can mow your grass, but you can hire someone.”
Sharp’s business ignited criticism from other Republicans earlier this week, with state Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee) taking to Twitter to say that Sharp is charging for a free service. Hildabrand told The Celock Report that he is concerned that voters will see KanVote and then believe the advanced ballot forms cost money.
“In politics perception is a reality,” Hildabrand said. “However much we tell people, what if people think they have to pay $10 for an advanced ballot and then they don’t get one because of that.”
Sharp noted that she’s promoted that the advanced ballot forms are free and works with her clients to promote that fact. On KanVote, the site stresses the service and the cost for the service and not the form.
Sharp stressed that she is trying to boost voter turnout in the state, noting that turnout has remained low and provided for a minority to decide elections. She said that in the past she has worked with candidates to get the forms out but it can be expensive for candidates to provide the same service.
The Kansas Republican Party is planning an advanced ballot push as part of the election cycle, mailing forms to voters. The state Democratic Party has also worked on pushing advanced voting. State Democratic Party spokesman Dakota Loomis declined to comment on the specifics of Sharp’s business but stressed the party is pushing for increased voter participation.
State Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) told The Celock Report that he’s concerned that Sharp’s business will decrease turnout.
“I would hate for someone to be dissuaded from voting because they were led to believe there is a fee for these free documents,” he said. “In a scenario where a voter is unable to make it to the polls on election day, then sees a fee associated with advance voting forms, they may simply choose not to vote.”
Sharp said that reaction to KanVote has been positive, noting that she has heard very little criticism. She said that in addition to making it easier for people to vote, she is also helping election officials, by providing forms that are typed rather than hand written.
She stressed that she put together KanVote carefully, noting her careful planning with other business opportunities.
“The folks who don’t like my success and whatever and were mad and contacted the election office. I don’t do these things on the fly,” Sharp said. “I was in the state legislature for three terms and was elected countywide, I know what I’m doing. Beyond those three people on Twitter everyone else is saying it’s a great idea.”