By John Celock
Following a debate over whether a Democratic lawmaker followed the proper procedure with an amendment, Kansas lawmakers advanced legislation to expand early voting procedures.
The state House of Representatives voted Monday to advance a bill that would allow advance mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted if they arrive by four days after the election. The real action, though, came on an amendment that would allow advance mail-in ballots to be delivered to the polling place along with the current procedure of delivering to a central election office. Several Republican lawmakers questioned why the Democratic legislator who brought the amendment did so on the floor and not in committee.
“We did not have the chance to really flesh this out in committee,” Elections Committee Chairman Keith Esau (R-Olathe) said about the amendment brought by Rep. Brett Parker (D-Overland Park). “I understand that we might have a Senate bill coming over where we will have a chance to flesh it out in committee.”
Parker’s amendment, which passed 67-57, would allow voters to bring advance mail-in ballots to a polling place, a practice that is already done but one that does not allow ballots to be counted. Current law requires that the advance mail-in ballots can either be mailed and received by the county election office by the time the polls close on Election Day or delivered by that time to the election office. Parker said he wanted to expand options.
“This would make it more convenient,” Parker said.
Parker’s amendment came on a bill that would expand the deadline for the mail-in ballots to allow those postmarked by the election to be counted if they are received by four days after the election. Rep. Vic Miller (D-Topeka), the top Democrat on the Elections Committee, said the closure of mail processing centers around the state is increasing the time to mail items and the time change is needed. The main bill received bipartisan backing in the committee. The bill with the Parker amendment received preliminary approval from the full House on a voice vote.
Parker, who has been emerging as a Democratic spokesman on election policy, told Elections Committee Vice Chairman Blake Carpenter (R-Derby) that he did not make the proposal during the committee meeting due to a compressed time frame when the committee handled the bill. He also noted that he needed time to get the language of the amendment from legislative attorneys and did not know the language the state Senate was planning to place into an election bill regarding the drop-off period. Parker said that while he knew the proposal was being considered in the Senate, he did not know the language senators were planning to use at the time of the Elections Committee meeting.
“We ended up working this bill on the same day we heard it because there was consensus on the committee,” Parker said.
Carpenter said that it would have been best if Parker had put the amendment forward as an idea without the exact language – a process known as a conceptual amendment.
“In the future it would be great if we had conceptual amendments so we could work it in the process,” Carpenter said.
Those speaking against Parker’s amendment did not cite opposition to the proposal but rather the process.
Supporters of Parker’s amendment said that floor amendments are offered routinely on legislation. Rep. John Carmichael (D-Wichita) noted that he has offered a similar bill in the past and the Elections Committee has declined to hold a hearing on the measure.
Rep. Barbara Ballard (D-Lawrence) noted that Parker is a freshman lawmaker and that the time frame was compressed on the legislation. She also questioned whether the issue was that the proposal has originated in the Senate and not in the House.
“We’re talking about a new legislator and a bill that was worked after it was heard. There was no time,” she said. “In all fairness let’s give him that opportunity.”