KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As the number of mail-in ballot applications in Johnson County surges past 100,000, election officials are expanding the county’s capacity to handle the increased number of ballots.
It makes sense, considering that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape of how we go to work, school, shop, eat and now vote.
Voting, of course, remains essential.
"If you don't take the opportunity to try and elicit change, then I don't feel that you have the privilege to complain,” Suzann Azzaro said.
Of course, change isn't easy for many either. The new rules surrounding voting already are proving confusing and concerning for some.
"The only real concern that I would have, it's really just mail-in ballots,” Steven Azzaro, 18, said. “Who's getting them? I don't really know when it leaves your hand. I don't really think there's any way to control who gets it and what happens to your vote afterwards."
Steven plans to vote in-person for his first election this fall, but more than 103,000 Johnson County residents already have requested mail-in ballot applications through Wednesday, according to the Johnson County Election Commission. It's a record for any election.
Applications for mail ballots received in the last few weeks. Again, if you have sent in a request for a mail ballot for the presidential election, don’t send in another one - we have all of these waiting on data entry as of today. 🇺🇸🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/qyUCYdwaO1
— Connie Schmidt (@ConnieSchmidt2) September 22, 2020
Election officials were prepared for the surge in mail-in requests.
"A larger quantity are going to do that then we've ever seen before because we've never done a presidential election in the COVID-19 pandemic era,” Johnson County Election Commissioner Connie Schmidt said. “We are responding to that and making voters feel comfortable that they can bypass the post office (and) go right to the election office drop box, and then you're bringing it right back to us."
By Oct. 17, seven "ballot boxes" will be Johnson County Public Library locations. Similar ballot boxes, which are being provided by the Kansas Secretary of State, will be installed across the state ahead of the election.
The Sedgwick County Election Office is excited to show off one of 14 of these new ballot drop boxes! The first ballot box is placed outside the Sedgwick County Courthouse and residents may use it to drop off ballots until 7 p.m. tonight. #SedgwickVotes #PrimaryElection pic.twitter.com/44SCOyF7op
— Sedgwick County (@SedgwickCounty) August 4, 2020
Johnson County's ballot boxes will be placed at the following locations:
- Blue Valley Library, 9000 W. 151st St., Overland Park
- Central Resource Library, 9875 W. 87th St., Overland Park
- De Soto Library, 33145 W. 83rd St., De Soto
- Gardner Library, 137 E. Shawnee St., Gardner
- Shawnee Library, 13811 Johnson Drive, Shawnee
- Spring Hill Library, 109 S. Webster St., Spring Hill
- Northeast county offices, 6000 Lamar Ave., Mission
In addition to the new ballot box locations, voters will also be able to drop off ballots 24 hours a day at the main Johnson County Election Office, located at 2101 E. Kansas City Road in Olathe.
“It’s keeping it right here at the election office,” Schmidt added.
From COVID-19 to social injustice, there's no shortage of issues expected to drive immense turnout for the 2020 election.
“I think they are feeling the pressure that their world is threatened right now, and so they feel like no matter what side they are picking, whatever they pick it's important,” Suzann said.
It's a big reason the Johnson County Election Commission has been fielding a lot of questions recently about how, where and when to vote.
Schmidt said voters requesting a mail-in ballot must submit a paper application before a ballot can be mailed out.
To vote by mail,election officials say it's best to print off your ballot application ASAP and send it in before ballots start going out Oct. 14 in Kansas.
Once the ballot is received, voters should mark their choices and place it in the envelope provided to mail it back or drop it off at the designated locations.
"The most important things we tell our voters is, if you're voting by mail, be sure you sign your ballot envelope, be sure that it's your envelope that you sign," Schmidt said. "A lot of times in the same household, a husband will sign their wife's ballot. They just got them confused and that causes an issue here."
Anyone worried about a ballot getting lost in the mail or not counted due to post office delays should utilize the ballot boxes, Schmidt said.
"Then, don't give it to the post office," she said. "That's a third-party you're giving it to. Take it to one of our drop boxes, in-person early voting locations or to a polling place on election day. That's the safest way to do it and we will get their ballot in."
The Kansas Secretary of State's office also has set up an online portal for voters to access their information, see if an application has been received and processed, and find out if it’s been accepted for counting.
Ballots returned to a ballot boxes must be returned by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 to be counted.