Kansas fight shows how election 'reforms' may favor one side

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Charley Crabtree sits in an office area at his home in Lawrence, Kan., Thursday, April 8, 2021. Crabtree was looking to help voters in nursing homes get absentee ballots delivered on time last year, so he picked up about 75 from at least 10 locations in his hometown of Lawrence. Republicans who control the Kansas Legislature want to make what he did a crime punishable by up to six months in jail. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

TOPEKA, Kan. – Charley Crabtree was looking to help voters in nursing homes get absentee ballots delivered on time last year, so he picked up about 75 from at least 10 locations in his hometown of Lawrence. Republicans who control the Kansas Legislature want to make what he did a crime punishable by up to six months in jail.

Republican lawmakers said they're protecting the integrity of the state's elections by making it less likely that ballots will go missing or get altered. Democrats describe the measure that cleared the GOP-controlled Legislature this month as an attack on get-out-the-vote efforts helping elderly, disabled and poor voters.

The bill also could help Republicans with a key policy goal: saving state abortion restrictions endangered by a Kansas Supreme Court decision in 2019 protecting abortion rights. GOP lawmakers were joined in efforts to revise election laws by abortion opponents who fear that abortion-rights canvassers could collect thousands of ballots to defeat a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution on the August 2022 ballot.

The Kansas fight illustrates how proposals billed as election reform might help a specific party or policy priority. The GOP’s bill is headed to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who hasn't said whether she’ll sign or veto it.

Crabtree said he was thinking last year about how people living in nursing homes would be able to vote because of the coronavirus pandemic. He pitched an idea to his local League of Women Voters chapter to deliver their ballots, which were sealed in envelopes so that “you would have to just completely tear up the envelope to get in them.”

“And we offered it to everybody and the ones that wanted help, we were glad to give it to them,” he said.

While Georgia has been ground zero in the election laws fight, it also has come to states that ex-President Donald Trump won, including Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Montana. Iowa last month enacted a GOP-backed law that makes it harder to vote early, potentially disadvantaging Democrats.

The issue also is before the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering the constitutionality of an Arizona law enacted by Republicans there in 2016 limiting who can return ballots.