- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2017

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - The Douglas County sheriff is being investigated for helping his mother obtain a ballot to vote even though she may live in another county, but his actions may not violate Kansas law.

The Kansas Secretary of State’s office is looking into Sheriff Ken McGovern’s actions, but this might be allowed under the state’s broad definition of residency, The Lawrence Journal-World reported (https://bit.ly/2mcCajZ ).

More than a year before last year’s primary election, Lois McGovern sold her house in Lawrence. It appears that she is living in a nursing home in Johnson County, but Sheriff McGovern declined to confirm that to the newspaper.

Bryan Caskey is director of elections for the Kansas Secretary of State’s office. He said the law allows someone to vote in a county they used to live in as long as they intend to return to that area.

“Under the law, you can be absent for 20 or 30 years and still vote,” Caskey said.

Residency for voter registration isn’t affected by vehicle registration, tax payments, utility hook-ups or the Census Bureau standard of where someone usually sleeps. Instead, Kansas election guidelines say that voters can determine their residence by their intent.

Sherrie Riebel is county clerk in Allen County, and she serves in the Kansas Association of County Clerks. Riebel said every clerk across the state has probably questioned the vagueness of that intent standard at least once, but she doesn’t think the provision is widely misused.

Riebel said she’s encountered people who have been gone for 20 years but keep their registration in Kansas. Those are the ones she questions, but there’s not much she can do about it.

“We’re not the election police,” she said. “And I don’t have a lie detector test to put them through.”

But some lawmakers say McGovern’s actions appear to violate voting law.

“I agree that the law is fairly loose. The facts as you presented them to me, they are unambiguous,” said Democratic Rep. Vic Miller. “You can’t just say ‘I intend to return’; otherwise there would be no threshold whatsoever. I don’t believe any judge would rule that is a bona fide residence.”

Republican Rep. Keith Esau of Olathe leads the House Elections Committee. He said there are good reasons for the intent standard, such as a missionary who sells their home but does plan to return. However, he said the McGovern situation is odd.

“That may be stretching it,” Esau said, “because you are in the same state, so why don’t you just use that as your residence? That is what most people do.”

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, https://www.ljworld.com

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