The pandemic and the closure of voting locations across the country has Americans eyeing mail-in voting as an option for casting their ballot. Every state has different laws and some parts of the process can, at least in Kansas, vary from county to county.

Geary County Clerk Rebecca Nordyke said she expects nearly double the number of mail-in ballots than her office would normally receive in a year with a presidential election. In the past she could expect about 1,000 mail-in ballots, this year she anticipates closer to 2,000.

One step she took to make the process easier for Geary County voters was to pre-pay the postage on the return envelopes. This is not a requirement, rather a move that Nordyke has been doing since 2006.

“It is just something that I have opted to do,” she said. “I always try to budget adequately and we always know the volume is going to be a lot heavier in a presidential year.”

This year, looking at the potential for twice the number of ballots, she took advantage of COVID-19 relief funds to help offset the additional costs, she said.

Application to receive a ballot

Voting by mail starts with submitting an application to request a ballot. The deadline for the county clerk’s office to receive those applications is Oct. 27.

To get an application people can call the clerk’s office at 785-238-2912 or go to www.gearycounty.org:

• Click on the large “VOTE” icon on the home page

• Click on the “learn more” link

• Click on the link for “application for advance ballot by mail.”

Geary County residents have reported receiving unsolicited applications for a ballot in the mail. Nordyke said these did not come from her office.

“These are third party vendors doing this kind of thing and they're having no communication with my office about anything,” she said.

However, the applications she has seen meets the criteria and are honored even though they are not the official ones from the state. She said some people have also received these applications in the mail and mistakenly thought they had to vote by mail.

“Just because you got something in the mail doesn’t mean you’re required to have your ballot mailed to you, that’s your choice,” she said.

Beginning Oct. 14, which is the earliest that state law allows, the clerk’s office will begin sending ballots to those people who requested one.

Check and double check

If the clerk’s office receives an incorrect or incomplete application, they cannot send that person a ballot. Nordyke said it is not uncommon for people to leave spaces blank, write down wrong information or forget to sign it.

Before sealing the application in the envelope, Nordyke said people should check it over and make sure it is correct and complete.

“Sometimes we're having it where someone has moved and they haven't re-registered and they've put their current address on their application and then we've got to go back and get them to give us a new voter registration card because their application doesn't match the way we have them registered,” she said.

When possible, someone from the clerk’s office will call the person and let them know they need to come down and correct their information.

“We make every effort that we can to help people get it completed correctly,” she said.

Returning the ballot

There are several options for returning ballot:

• Hand deliver it to clerk’s office by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3

• Place in the ballot drop box, in front of the Geary County Office Building, 200 E. Eighth St. no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day. The drop box is under 24/7 surveillance. Two bipartisan members of the Advanced Election Board will check it several times a day to retrieve ballots.

• Hand deliver it to their designated polling place on Election Day.

• Mail it with a postmark on or before Tuesday, November 3. It must arrive at the county clerk’s office by Friday, Nov. 6.

The postmark is important, she said. During this year’s primary election, her office received 44 ballots by mail that came in between Election Day and the following Friday.

“We could count none of those 44 because either they weren’t postmarked or it was postmarked after election day,” she said. “If the post office fails to put a postmark on there, then I can’t count it.”

Voting in person

Voters who request a mail-in ballot may still vote in person but they can’t do both.

Should a registered voter, for whatever reason, choose not to return the ballot they received, they can go to their polling place on Election Day and cast a provisional ballot.

When the clerk’s office receives their application for a ballot, that information goes in the poll books, which the poll workers use to verify a person’s eligibility to vote.

“(Poll workers) are not going to know whether or not you returned your ballot,” Nordyke said. “They will ask you to vote provisionally and then we’ll sort that out later.”

Watching the signature

There are several reasons a person’s signature may look different than what is on file at the county clerk’s office. Illness, age and injury can result in an altered signature.

A person who knows their signature has changed can stop by the clerk’s office and fill out a new voter registration card.

“Voters are contacted and given a chance to update their signature if there is a concern about the verification,” Nordyke said.

Voters who have a physical disability or illness may choose to complete the “Application for Permanent Advance Voting Status.”

“Upon receipt of a properly completed form, my office will automatically send them a ballot for each election the voter is qualified to vote in,” she said.

Checking on the status of a ballot

Some people may be reluctant to vote by mail because they are worried their ballot will not show up and be counted. In Kansas, they can track their application and ballot by calling the clerk’s office at 785-238-2912 or go to www.gearycounty.org. On the website:

• Click on the large “VOTE” icon on the home page

• Click on the “learn more” link

• Click on the “Voter View” link on the left-hand side of the page.

• Complete the fields for name and date of birth.

• Complete the fields in the Advance Ballot area.

This is also were people can check their voting history, what district they are in and the location of their polling place.

The mail-in ballot process

A special board comprised of Democrats and Republicans are responsible for tabulating the mail-in ballots. When ballots arrive, the staff at the clerk’s office lock them up until they have a chance to log them in. When they log them in, they verify the signature on the envelope.

“If we get 25 ballots in the mail on Oct. 15, then that is part of the process that the staff goes through,” she said. “They pull up the voters record in our voter registration database. They verify the signature on the envelope, and then they log in that we received this ballot on Oct. 15. And then locked in a ballot box.”

After logging them in, the ballots get locked up again, where they remain until Election Day when the board will:

• Count the ballot envelopes to be sure it matches the report of ballots logged in as received.

• Ballot envelopes are opened, and the ballots are removed.

• The ballots are then counted to be certain the number matches the number logged in as received. Great care is taken to be certain the secrecy of the voted ballot is maintained, Nordyke said.

• The ballots are then put through the vote counting equipment for tabulation of the votes.

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