Kalli Smith
KU Statehouse Wire Service
After instances of police being called to polling locations during election-day disputes last year, proponents of a new bill advocate to make amendments to the crime of electioneering to avoid such instances in the future.
Debated by the House Committee of Ethics, Elections and Local Government on Wednesday, House Bill 2256 would amend electioneering law to include gathering signatures or circulating a petition of any kind within a 100-foot radius of a polling site on election day.
Electioneering is when one attempts to influence voters to vote in favor of a particular candidate or issue.
The new bill would exclude allowing people to wear, distribute or exhibit labels, signs, posters, stickers and other materials that clearly identify or support a candidate in the election.
In the past, the bill included a 250-foot radius distance from a polling site, however, after multiple amendments the bill would change that to a 100-foot distance rule.
The 100-feet radius would be applied in all cases of electioneering crime.
Bryan Caskey, director of elections for the Kansas Secretary of State’s office, testified in support of the bill, saying the new bill would help avoid confusion that is being caused by the current bill.
“We’ve had groups who have caused lots of discrepancies in recent years and a
couple of instances law enforcement has been called,” Caskey said. “We’d like to make it more clear exactly what’s a crime.”
Not only was Caskey in support of the bill, he requested another amendment be made to the bill that would exempt privately held property from the ban on electioneering.
Sen. Dinah Skyes (R-Lenexa) of the committee reminded Caskey that several polling places are held on private property, and was concerned with how people would interpret the difference between polling sites on private property and private property that is someone’s home.
Caskey said he had taken that issue into account, and work was being done to draft the amendment to make that issue more clear.
Rep. Keith Esau (R-Olathe) spoke in support of the bill saying that if enacted, the bill would address two concerns Kansas voters have had related to activities at polling sites on election day.
The first concern the bill would address is issues at several polling sites in the Wichita area last year where voters were approached by people asking them to sign recall petitions.
Esau said the bill will also provide an exception to the distance rule once a public highway or road is crossed. This will address another issue voters dealt with last year that allows a person who lives across the street from a polling place to no longer have to remove election signs from their yards on election days if his or her home is within 250 feet.
“We have people who have houses next to polling places, and they like to leave signs up,” Esau said. “This is an encouragement to their freedom of speech and 250 starts to get into other people’s yards.”
No opponents of the bill testified Wednesday, leaving Sen. Elaine Bowers (R-Concordia), chairman of the committee, to emphasize the importance of getting the private property amendment worked into the bill.
Bowers said the bill has a good chance at being passed, and will help create less confusion about the current statute.
“Addressing issues that happened in other counties, for instance gathering the petitions, we need to make sure the public knows what the rules are and what the boundaries are as far as distance,” Bowers said. “I think that it’s important that we clarify that in the statute, then there’s no doubt on what the law is. Things are kind of fuzzy right now, so if we set that straight that will make sense to me.”
Bowers said the committee will be meet Thursday to address the newly added amendments of the bill.
Kalli Smith is a University of Kansas junior majoring in journalism from Hiawatha.