Influx of mail-in ballots could lead to delay between Election Day and final results

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Voting by mail has gained popularity nationwide because of safety concerns related to COVID-19. (Archive photo by Parker Robb | Collegian Media Group)

In 2016, Riley County sent out 1,764 mail-in ballots. As of Wednesday, the county had sent 9,810 ballots for the general election, and Rich Vargo, Riley County clerk and elections official, said that number increases daily.

Many voters assume that election results are final on Election Day, but Vargo said this was never the case. This year in particular, with a surge in the number of mail-in voters, many ballots might not be counted until after Nov. 3.

Vargo said there’s always some variation between the unofficial results that come out on Election Day and the final election results released at the canvas of the election. This year, the canvas in Riley County is on Nov. 16.

“We will have preliminary, unofficial results on Nov. 3 for mail-in ballots and those submitted on Election Day,” Vargo said. “Throughout the week, we will add to those totals.”

Vargo said mail-in ballots can be thrown out for various reasons. One of the largest casters of thrown-out ballots in Riley County is unregistered college students, he said.

“I was in college — it’s not always on the forefront of your mind,” Vargo said. “[Students will] be in class on Election Day, and professors will tell them to go vote, but the problem is they didn’t take care of business and get registered.”

The registration deadline to vote in the general election in Kansas was Tuesday.

Hayley Spellman, founding member of the nonpartisan group Wildcats Vote and graduate student in teaching, cast her ballot early this year in Riley County.

Choosing to vote by mail was a difficult decision for Spellman, who said she normally loves voting in person.

“I’m usually the first one that shows up when the polls open,” Spellman said. “I get a huge adrenaline rush that I just ride for the rest of the day.”

This year, Spellman said voting by mail felt like the safest option.

“With COVID and the unpredictability, it’s hard to know where things will be a week from now, let alone three weeks from now,” she said. “What if you’re quarantining on election day?”

Though voting by mail isn’t ideal for Spellman, this isn’t her first time. She also mailed in her ballot for the August primary for similar safety reasons and to figure out the process ahead of the general election.

Spellman’s advice to fellow mail-in voters is to vote early and ensure their information is marked correctly on the ballot.

“It’s very straightforward,” she said. “There are a couple things people should look out for though.”

For instance, voters should make sure their signature matches that on their voter registration forms. Signatures that don’t match could result in an invalid ballot.

The deadline to request a ballot for the general election is Oct. 27. Once received, mail-in ballots must be completely filled out and postmarked by Election Day and received by Friday, Nov. 6.

Spellman also recommended creating a voting plan to figure out the how, the where and the when of how you’ll vote.

Details to consider when formulating a voting plan, Spellman said, include:

  • Whether a ballot has been requested.
  • When to fill out the ballot.
  • When the ballot will be sent back in.
  • If voting in person, where to vote, and how to get to the polls.

“Voting always takes time to plan out all those little details, and for this election, it’s insanely critical to figure out those details ahead of time,” Spellman said.

For Kansas voters to check their registration status, request a ballot and more, Spellman recommends the Kansas Votes website.

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