- Associated Press - Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Topeka Capital-Journal, Oct. 14

Halting Census shamefully partisan

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a halt to the Census count while legal action continues in a lower court. The practical result is that the Census is coming to an end more than two weeks before originally planned.

This is a great shame, because as we pointed out two days ago, the U.S. Census carries incredible power. The government sets funding levels for states and towns based on the once-a-decade count, and population levels are used for congressional redistricting. In this most unsettled and uncommon year, it made sense that officials take the time as necessary to ensure an accurate and complete count.

But the Trump administration had its eyes on the Census from the beginning. It first targeted undocumented immigrants and noncitizens, attempting to include a question singling them out. At best, this was clearly meant to intimidate and deter responses from a whole neglected class of Americans. At worst, some suspected it was meant to create a list of those the administration wanted to force out of the country.



That tack failed at the Supreme Court. But the administration kept fiddling, apparently searching for a way to squeeze political advantage out of a formerly apolitical process. The pandemic gave them one more shot, as Census operations were understandably postponed, then moved back and forth on the calendar.

The point of it all was nicely summed up in two paragraphs from the New York Times: The “early end could mean that White House officials, rather than Census Bureau experts, may use the population numbers to determine representation in the House of Representatives and in state and local governments.

“President Trump has insisted those numbers should not include undocumented immigrants living in the United States. That conflicts with the mandate of the Constitution that the census count all residents of the country and would almost certainly give more representation to Republicans.”

One of the most toxic features of the current administration is its insistence on seeing every single function of government through a partisan lens. It’s exhausting, and it’s unrealistic. Not every single action or function in life has a secret ideological tilt.

Either people are living in the United States and are counted in the Census, or they’re not. That should be the full story, full stop.

It’s deeply dismaying, too, to see this decision come down while the U.S. Senate rushes through a Supreme Court nomination. Once again, we see the party in power working at all costs to preserve power, to limit the voices of those represented, to make a country that is smaller rather than larger.

Election Day can’t come soon enough.

____

The Manhattan Mercury, Oct. 15

Going to Junction City for light bulbs

Manhattan City Commissioner Mark Hatesohl has popped off with another doozy, this time about masks.

He said earlier this week at a public meeting that he thinks the city’s mask requirement has scared people away from shopping and doing business here. He thinks that explains the decline in retail sales in Manhattan, compared to a rather surprising uptick in neighboring Junction City.

He’s right on the numbers: Sales tax collections dropped by 2.1 percent from July to September in Manhattan, while they were up 13.5 percent in Junction City, compared to the same period a year ago. Those figures represent actual retail sales made in the months of May, June and July. There’s a two-month lag between the time that a retail sale is made and the month that the sales tax revenue hits the city government’s bank account.

Part of the reason for Junction City’s increase in those months in 2020 is that the numbers in 2019 were low, according to Allen Dinkel, the city manager. That has to do with the deployment of soldiers from Fort Riley at that time.

Commissioner Hatesohl’s thinking is that Manhattan’s mask requirement has frightened people, making them think it’s not safe here. So… how exactly that would drive people to shop instead in Junction City is not clear. “Hey, honey, I need to run to the store for some light bulbs and a gallon of milk, but I really get nervous about this mask thing, so I’m running over to Walmart in JC. Back in an hour and a half.”

Makes zero sense. Also, just to be clear, many stores in Junction require masks for entry, even though there’s no government order to do so.

What we have here is Commissioner Hatesohl with a pre-determined opinion, looking for so-called “facts” to support the view he already has.

In another thread, Commissioner Hatesohl suggested that the banning of Fort Riley soldiers from Aggieville is driving them to eat and drink in Junction City rather than here. That is almost certainly true to some extent, but we doubt very seriously that Bud Lights and chicken tenders accounted for $300,000 in sales taxes. If you assume sales tax is roughly 10 percent, that’d be $3 million over three months of beer and bar food. Uhhhh…no.

Furthermore, the reason Fort Riley’s commanding general forbade soldiers from Aggieville was that there were significant virus outbreaks tied to the bar district here. Numbers were surging. It was a little scary in Aggieville at that time, in part because people weren’t wearing masks. The problem, in other words, was not the mask ordinance. The problem was that college kids were jamming themselves into bars and coughing on each other, maskless.

Do masks frighten anybody? Well, that’s certainly possible. In this goofy era, where masks have become political, people seemed to split along party lines about them. Certainly some people might say they’re an indication of fear, or of a problem worse than it really is.

That line of thinking, in our view, is not in any way rational, and has almost certainly faded dramatically as time has gone on. People all over the country are wearing masks because they want to protect each other. People have gotten used to them, and used to seeing each other in them. It’s not that big a deal to wear them, and they make a difference.

If you want to oppose government mandates about masks, that’s fine. There’s a case to be made, on the grounds of the limits of government power. We’re sympathetic to that argument.

But let’s not get off into silliness. So what explains an uptick in sales in Junction City during a time when the economy in most places had slowed? That’s an interesting question that we can pursue. But let’s not pretend that it’s somehow about masks.

____

The Kansas City Star, Oct. 13

Where are all the ballot drop boxes? Wyandotte County botches advance voting plans

What were election officials in the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas thinking?

To order ballot drop boxes so close the Nov. 3 general election was an abject failure of leadership.

After weeks of indecisiveness, Wyandotte Election Commissioner Bruce Newby finally asked the Unified Government’s Board of Commissioners to use federal coronavirus relief funds for the purchase of four drop boxes for advance ballots.

But did the request come too late? Wyandotte County was in good shape, Newby told commissioners as late as last month, according to documents provided to The Star.

Drop boxes, which allow voters to cast their advance ballots without mailing them, must be placed in secure locations with surveillance capabilities. The process takes three to four weeks, Newby said. Two drop boxes provided by the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office were installed this week.

The situation should be monitored, voting rights advocates say.

“We’re running out of time,” Newby acknowledges.

Each county election office is responsible for securing its own equipment. And Kansas Democrats have accused Newby of trying to suppress voting in the county through inaction.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration urged local officials to use federal CARES Act dollars to increase the number of drop boxes in their communities. Wyandotte County was late to the party.

The delay amounts to voter suppression, making it more difficult for low-income voters and people of color in Wyandotte County to safely cast their ballots, said Ben Meers, executive director of the Kansas Demcoractic Party.

Budget constraints and bureaucratic hurdles were at play, not partisan politics, Newby told The Star Editorial Board. Wyandotte County is a reliably Democratic area. Government officials denied Newby’s claim.

“We have to have the cooperation of the Unified Government,” he said. “I can’t buy something that I don’t have the money for.”

OTHER COUNTIES PREPARED FOR ADVANCE VOTING

Kansas allows any eligible voter to request an advance ballot by mail. Early in-person voting is an option as well. A record number of Kansans plan to vote before Election Day this year.

In four of the state’s most populous counties, officials took steps to prepare for the expected increase in advance voting due to the inherent risk of going to the polls during the coronavirus pandemic.

Johnson County will use eight drop box locations for voters, who can choose their preferred candidates by mail beginning Wednesday.

Sedgwick County will utilize 14 ballot drop boxes. Nearby Douglas County has 10 in place and two more in reserve.

In Johnson County, 10 sites were designated for early in-person voting; Sedgwick County has 18; and Douglas County has seven. Wyandotte has just three.

“People want options,” Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said.

Of course, Kansas voters can still go to the polls. Those leery of the United States Postal Service have the option of turning in their completed advance ballots to the county election office before Nov. 3, or to their polling location on Election Day.

But election officials have a duty to eliminate barriers that could become a deterrent to voting.

In Johnson County, the number of mail-in ballot applications has surpassed 100,000. Officials plan to use drive-thru ballot boxes outside the election office in Olathe that were installed in 2018.

Seven new boxes located in public libraries throughout the county also will be put to use. Each was provided by the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office.

Why?

Johnson County election officials simply asked for and received more than their allotment, which does not reflect well on the Wyandotte Election Office, University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller said.

“If Wyandotte County (officials) really wanted the boxes, couldn’t they get them?” Miller said.

Wyandotte County could have just one drop box for approximately every 45,000 registered voters in an area heavily populated with low-income, Hispanic and Black residents - a ratio that is simply insufficient and indefensible.

Wyandotte County should have a minimum of five drop boxes for advance ballots, some lawmakers said. Others have argued for six to eight boxes.

In any case, the county has fallen woefully short, making it more difficult to vote in Wyandotte County.

Most county election officials in Kansas have worked to allow voters to cast advance ballots safely and with minimal hassle.

The same can’t be said in Wyandotte County.

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