- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2020

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Republican lawmaker is planning legislation that would force Secretary of State Scott Schwab to implement a law passed last year that allows residents to vote at locations most convenient to them, rather than assigning them to polling places.

Across the aisle, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka, is considering taking legal action to force Schwab to implement the law to create “voting centers,” The Wichita Eagle reported.

Schwab told lawmakers this month that he supports the law but that it is unlikely the state will have regulations in place to ensure poll security in all counties in time for the November election.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell said he is frustrated with the delay, noting that the law was pushed through last year so it could be implemented for the 2020 elections. He said the law would shorten lines at polling stations on Election Day.

“Now we are eight or nine months later and he hasn’t written any rules and regulations yet. Why?” Howell asked.

Rep. Blake Carpenter, a Republican from Derby who is majority whip in the House and vice-chairman of the Elections committee, is having a bill drafted that would give county commissions the authority to implement the law without waiting for Schwab’s rules. That bill could be introduced as early as next week, he said.

Carpenter and commissioners are hoping to fast-track the bill so the county would have time to put the new system in place for the Aug. 4 primary.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said he is considering taking legal action to force Schwab to “do his duty as the secretary of state.”

Schwab said a task force is working to write the regulations as soon as possible but that it’s complicated because state rules must apply to everybody, not just tech-savvy counties like Sedgwick.

“Not every county has the same poll book,” he said. “Not every county has the same voting machines. So you have to get all those (vendors) in one room, that are competitors, agreeing to have a conversation that may compromise their system.”

He also noted that Homeland Security is involved because of security concerns.

Once the regulations are written, the attorney general’s office and a legislative committee have to review them, which could take more than two months, he said.

Schwab also said he would prefer to test the new system during a local election with low voter turnout, rather than this year, when high turnout is expected with the presidential and Senate races on the ballot. He is most concerned about rural counties, which don’t have reliable network access.

“If there’s a network shortage, or a network outage, and suddenly a bunch of people don’t get to vote, that’s a bigger problem than implementing immediately,” Schwab said.

Howell said the legislation was written in a way that allows counties without the correct technology to opt out.

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