ATCHISON, Kan. — A vote to fix the streets in one Kansas town could keep dozens of people from voting in an historic Kansas election.
Kansans have until July 12 to register to vote in the August 2 primary election. The same ballots will allow Kansans to vote on the “Value Them Both” abortion rights amendment.
However the deadline to register to vote in Atchison was pushed up to June 23, the day before the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs Wade.
Josie McCullough started organizing protests in Atchison supporting women’s rights shortly after the Dobbs decision June 24th. That same weekend she went online to register to vote with Kansas being the first state scheduled to vote on abortion rights August 2.
“I registered to vote online June 26, our peaceful protests started June 27. I’ve checked 10-15 times to see if I’m registered and every time it says I’m not,” she said.
She’s since learned she’s not alone. No one in the city of Atchison could register to vote after June 23rd. That’s because the city has scheduled a special election 21 days later, July 14th. Problem is that’s past the 21 day deadline for the rest of the state to register for the August 2 primary.
County Clerk Michelle Phillips said after the city decided on the special election and selected the date, she followed guidelines putting the early registration deadline in the local paper and on radio ads.
“At that point in time we had a feeling it was going to be an issue,” Phillips said.
Affected voters incude people just turning 18, like Sean Curry’s daughter.
“You shouldn’t be able to schedule a city election that prevents people from being able to vote for a state election, federal election or any election,” Curry said.
Several people who won’t be able to vote asked City Commissioners at its meeting this week to push back its special election.
“We can talk about potholes after August 2 reopen the registration let us vote and we’ll talk about the potholes afterwards,” McCullough said.
Atchison City Manager Amy Finch said in a statement: “The City has received complaints for years about the disrepair of our city streets. We have been working on financing those infrastructure improvements and have given voters the option to decide on a sales tax to address those complaints. Months ago, we decided to put the issue of a 1% sales tax to the voters. In consultation with the County Clerk, who manages elections, that vote was and is set for July 14. We have no control over the state law that governs elections or the time limits on registering to vote. There is a group trying to make this a city issue when the city has no authority to govern voter registration. It would not be fair to disregard the rights of voters who have already cast ballots in this special election through advance and absentee ballots, in an attempt to remedy an issue that is outside our authority. No further statements will be forthcoming regarding this issue.”
“The city says its unfair. This is unfair to us,” McCullough responded.
The County Clerk said she’s working with the Secretary of State’s Office to try to come up with ways people might still be able to vote even if it means within Kansas guidelines returning to the city or state where they recently moved from to cast their vote.
People who couldn’t register to vote, or did so online and find out on election day its not valid will be able to cast provisional ballots. The Canvassing Board comprised of Atchison County Commissioners will then decide whether those votes count according to Phillips.
“It is very disruptive to know that people are going to be suppressed a vote or a vote not count. But the only thing we can do is keep the education out there the resources out there for that voting registration to happen,” Phillips said.
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