JoCo on the Go Podcast: Primary Election

On episode #167 of JoCo on the Go, we visit with Fred Sherman, Johnson County election commissioner, about the upcoming August 6 primary election. The conversation focuses on deadlines to register to vote and how to cast a ballot in advance – both in person and by mail – and in person on Election Day. We also visit with Patrick Clark, an Overland Park resident who has served as an election worker for many years about the important role election workers play in conducting elections in Johnson County.

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Time Subject
00:48 Introduction
01:41 About the primary election
06:46 How to register
13:44 The role of election workers
17:12 What being an election worker is like
22:13 Ensuring elections are secure


Andy Hyland 0:00 

This August voters in Johnson County will head to the polls to participate in the upcoming primary election. The Johnson County Election Office, which conducts the elections in our county, is also preparing. Today, we visit with Johnson County's election commissioner to get some information on how to make sure those who are eligible to vote can exercise their civic duty. And we'll also learn a little bit about the election workers who play an important role in conducting a safe and secure election in Johnson County.

Announcer 0:33 

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Andy Hyland 0:48 

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Andy Hyland. I work in public affairs in Johnson County Government. And joining us today is Fred Sherman, the Johnson County Election Commissioner. Welcome, Fred. And can you tell us maybe just to get us started a little bit about yourself and your job.

Fred Sherman 1:04 

So thank you. Yes, I'm glad to be here. Glad to participate in this podcast to give some information about myself and the upcoming election. So Fred Sherman's my name. I am the election commissioner here for Johnson County, Kansas. And actually, it's an appointed position. The four largest counties in the state of Kansas, the county election official is appointed as election commissioner by the Secretary of State.

Andy Hyland 1:27 

Fantastic, and you're here to share some information about participating in this summer's primary election. And so maybe we can start about what is that election itself? And what's on the ballot? And what can voters expect to see?

Fred Sherman 1:41 

So yeah, so I think the aspect of us having an election may surprise some folks, because the question like, "Didn't we already have a primary?" And the answer to that is yes. It was kind of a unique situation we had in March, the presidential preference primary. But in the state of Kansas, the typical election calendar cycle is the primary elections are done on the first Tuesday in August. So coming up here on August 6 will be the primary election here in the state of Kansas and Johnson County. And that's for all the positions that are not President and Vice President type of thing. So here for this particular election here in Johnson County, U.S. representatives for Congress is on the ballot for the party nomination aspect. There's a number of countywide offices and state offices that are going to be on the election here in the even year. The other component that's a little confusing to many people is this August primary election is the nominating election for the two major political parties, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. So for the most part, it's an election only to eliminate some candidates. And the winners typically move on to appear on the ballot in the November general election.

Andy Hyland 2:54 

And so as a voter prepares, and one of the things they may want to do is access a sample ballot so that they can see the specific races that pertain to their particular election. And how do they go about doing that if they wanted to?

Fred Sherman 3:08 

So we will have the sample ballots posted. Our goal and a deadline is to do so by July 1. So each precinct, and there are 580 total precincts, has its own unique ballot style. In fact, there'll be a ballot style per precinct for the Republican Party and a ballot style for the Democratic Party as well. So well over 1,000 different ballot styles for just those two political parties. So to answer your original question, how do I know we even to vote for, what's going to be on it? Starting July 1 is our goal to put it up there on the website, through the Voter View lookup app through the Secretary of State, individual voters will be able to pull up their own specific ballot style, because we will have really almost over almost 1,400 different ballot permutations or ballot styles to choose from. And it is going to be important that individuals are able to review the candidates on their specific ballot style for their party and precinct.

Andy Hyland 4:04 

And you mentioned deadlines there. One of the deadlines is to get a sample ballot. And there's just with any election, I know there's just a lot of key deadlines that voters need to keep in mind in order to ensure they're able to vote and able to participate in the election. So what are some of those dates, if you mind walking through the calendar coming up in the next few weeks?

Fred Sherman 4:24 

For this August primary election, in fact, the calendar and deadlines become very kind of confusing for folks, particularly since it's a partisan election. So if you're a registered voter in Johnson County and you are currently affiliated with a political party, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, Libertarian Party, and there's actually two other minor parties. But if you're currently registered and affiliated with the party, you're locked in to vote that party ballot, for the Republican and the Democratic. If you're unaffiliated, if you're registered to vote but have not affiliated with a party, and that represents about 26% of the voters here in Johnson County, to vote in this election for most of the races, you have to affiliate with a party. The party is what's called closed elections. And those unaffiliated voters can affiliate with a party at any point in time, including on even up to Election Day. So that's really one of the biggest confusing factors that happens in these August even year primary elections. For the voters that are in the county commission district six, any voter can vote on that particular race, whether you're unaffiliated, affiliated with the two major political parties, or even one of the three minor parties, every voter will be able to vote on that one. But for the ballots of the county, because it's a nominating election for the two major political parties, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, you have to be affiliated with that particular party to vote that party's ballot style or those candidates. And if you already are affiliated with a party, you cannot change parties at this point in time. So that's one of the key deadlines that's unfortunately already in the past. The next one is for those that are not even registered to vote. So July 16 coming up is the deadline for anyone who is not registered to vote. Or if they have a change in their voter registration, like if they move with a different address or their name change. Again, you can't change political parties if you're affiliated with one. But if you have an update to your registration in terms of change of address, or if you're not currently registered to vote, you can register to vote up to July 16.

Andy Hyland 6:30

And, you know, one of the things you mentioned there about registration, I just want to make sure people who want to register to vote and may not have already done so, they know how to do that. So what's the best way, if you want to register and you haven't yet, what's the best way to get information about that?

Fred Sherman 6:46

So again, on our website, we've got a page specifically designated for voter registration. On that is a link to a couple different options. If you have a Kansas driver's license, you can register online. You can update your voter registration or register for the first time through the online. In fact, most people register through what's called the Motor Voter Act, they're gonna be able to do so when they actually get their driver's license issued. So either online or you can download a form, a voter registration form, and fill that out and submit it to our office. Again, they can be mailed in, it can be walked in, it can be scanned and emailed in. In fact, we even have a cell phone number. So once you fill out that paper form, you can take a picture of it and text it in.

Andy Hyland 7:30 

And we've talked a little bit about the process leading up to the actual vote. Let's talk about ways folks can actually cast that vote. And I know in Johnson County, you can vote in person on Election Day, you can vote in advance in person, and you can also vote in advance by mail. So maybe you could walk through those three different options and how they might look and how you can participate.

Fred Sherman 7:53 

Great question. And we have voters that choose to vote different ways. But in the state of Kansas, any one of the three ways is open and available to any particular candidates. And we'll have a voter information packet that's sent out to every registered voter in addition to the information on our website. And on that voter information packet we'll list all the options for the three different ways to vote, to vote by mail, to vote in person, listing all of our 18 advanced voting sites we're going to have here in 2024. And most importantly, it'll list the designated polling site where you need to vote on Election Day. So of the three ways, we still in the state of Kansas and Johnson County work what's called precinct-based on Election Day, which means we assign specific precincts to a designated polling site. So to vote on that election day Tuesday, voters must go to their assigned polling site location. And this voter information packet will list that Election Day polling site for voters, as well as through the Voter View lookup app where you can see your sample ballot, you can look that up. So that's Election Day. And actually in most August primary elections, we tend to see the majority of voters voting on Election Day in August primaries. The second way to vote is you can vote in person at an advanced voting location. And in the state of Kansas near in Johnson County, that's any of the advanced locations. So with it being a big kind of election year for us with the presidential election cycle, we have stepped up the number of days for advanced voting. We will have 18 total advance voting sites opened up in both the August election as well as coming up in the November general election. But we're not going to open all 18 at one time. We will do it in two different ways. We did this in 2022, and it worked out very well. So starting in mid-July, is when we will first open the first 10 advanced voting sites. And then a week later, we'll open eight more of those sites. So we'll be open for three Saturdays two-plus weeks leading up to the August election. So they open on Saturday, July 20, we'll open 10 sites, and then the next Saturday, Saturday, July 27, is when we open the eight additional sites. So three Saturdays over two-plus weeks, 18 advanced voting sites. Any voter in Johnson County can go to any one of the 18 advanced voting sites. We close most of them on Saturday, August 3 is the last day for all 18 sites. But we are required to be open from 8 a.m. to noon on the Monday prior to election day. So we will have only three advanced voting sites open for that four-hour period of time, the Arts and Heritage Center up on Metcalf, Hilltop Conference Center down about 143rd and Metcalf and here at the Election Office. So those only three sites are open that Monday prior to Election Day Tuesday, from 8 a.m. to noon. So 18 advanced voting sites. There's well over 100 hours of availability in terms of voters to vote on advanced voting. The third way is to vote by mail. And Kansas is what's considered a no excuse by mail state. You don't have to have a specific reason to vote by mail. But to vote by mail, you have to make an application each election cycle. So the information packet we're sending out, as well as information on the website, will direct people on how to get to that application. When people submit an application to vote by mail, they send us information about their identity, typically their driver's license number or some other form of government ID, as well as their signature verification. And that's just to have a mail ballot sent to them. We start sending out the mail ballots 20 days prior to the election. So that will be beginning on July 17, the day after voter registration closes, is when mail ballots will be sent via USPS to folks that have requested a mail ballot for this August election. The deadline to request a mail ballot is July 30. So you have still some time to go. But we encourage people to make the application early, because that takes some time for the mail service to deliver, whether it's election ballots or those kinds of things. So we do encourage anyone who needs or wants to vote by mail to apply early well before July 30.

Andy Hyland 12:08 

And I imagine you also encourage people to submit that ballot itself early as well, well in advance of the deadline to do that.

Fred Sherman 12:17 

Sure. So the both advance voting, as well as the mail ballot process, can take place from 20 days prior to the election until Election Day Tuesday. I know there's been a lot of debate and proposed bills in Topeka and it's very confusing. But Kansas still does have a three-day grace period after Election Day on the mail ballots, if they're postmarked and delivered by the USPS. So anyone who votes by mail, they can actually when they vote by mail, they can bring it back to the Election Office in person. They can take it to any polling site, any advanced polling site or any of the 140 Election Day polling sites to return their mail ballot. They can obviously put a stamp on it and put it through the U.S. Postal Service. Or they can do it at any one of our eight drop-off boxes. And we will have a bipartisan team collecting ballots that are put in our dropboxes on a daily basis. But those dropboxes do close at 7 p.m. on election day. But again, we still for this particular election, as well as the November general election, anybody who's mailed their ballot back by the U.S. Postal Service, if it is postmarked by 7 p.m. Election Day, it still can be received and processed for tabulation if it's come back on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday after election date.

Andy Hyland 13:32 

I know you also depend on a whole fleet of election workers to help administer these elections. And I understand you're looking for more of them to help you out.

Fred Sherman 13:44 

We always like volunteers and election workers. If you go to our website right now, it's kind of the main banner is like, "Volunteer to be an election worker." So yes, we will have probably over 1,200 individuals help us out in various capacities as volunteers and election workers to conduct this August election. August is a significant election. But it's not going to be as big in terms of voter turnout as what we're expecting in the fall for the November general election. In that timeframe, we're going to need well over 2,000 individuals helping us out as either traditional election workers, or we have a number of people that also help us do a lot of preparations of as we get into preparing the supplies for polling sites, doing what we call logic and accuracy testing. So there's a lot of things we do even down to processing applications, vote by mail and those kinds of things. So yes, we do want folks to help us out, and it's a great civic duty. The qualifications are not difficult, but you do need to be a registered voter in Johnson County to be an election worker here for Johnson County elections. Eighteen and above for adults, but even will take students ages 16 and 17. There is a student provision that we can get a sign-off with a sponsor or a teacher to do student election workers as well. The information is on our website. In fact, we encourage people to apply through our website to be an election worker. That way, we get it into our database. And from that standpoint, we will then contact people to kind of get them the information for it. We will start election worker training, probably right after the Fourth of July, the week of July 8. Probably the other key thing is even though we say it's volunteers, it is a stipend or paid position. So as an election worker, you get a stipend payment of $150 to work as an election worker. And then for training, we do a $25 payment for up to two training sessions, or there's a maximum of $50 for training. So basically, it's a $200 kind of total fee to sign up, go through training and work as an election worker on Election Day. Or as a day even during advanced voting, because we'll have the need for the staffing of the 18 advanced voting sites in addition to the 140 election sites we're going to have on Election Day.

Andy Hyland 15:55

Also joining us today is Patrick Clark, who's a resident of Overland Park and has worked and volunteered with the Election Office for about seven or eight years. Welcome, Patrick. And thanks for joining us.

Patrick Clark 16:06 

Good to be here.

Andy Hyland 16:07 

And so maybe you could briefly introduce yourself and the role and your history with the Election Office.

Patrick Clark 16:15 

Like you said, my name is Patrick Clark. I live in Overland Park. I've been working with the Election Office for seven or eight years. I started as an election worker. And as I gained experience, I've taken on additional responsibilities. I've served as the supervising judge at specific election polling locations. And most recently, most recent elections, I've served as support for about half a dozen polling locations. You know, I provide them with supplies when they run low, provide technical support if there are any issues with machines, or just serving as a resource to answer questions for either voters or election workers.

Andy Hyland 16:56 

That's great. Well, it sounds like you have a lot of great information to share with us today about what kind of role people play and what that work is like. So maybe you can describe what it's like to serve as an election worker. What kind of work do you do?

Patrick Clark 17:12 

There are...well, first of all, every election worker before every election goes through training, which is dictated by state law. Even election workers who have been with us for 20 years have to go through the training. And once you get to the election polling location, there's about five or six different roles that you might serve, from greeting election workers and kind of managing any kind of line that results, checking the voter in and verifying their identity, explaining the operation of the voting machine to them, helping them actually scan their ballot into the tabulator. And election workers will rotate through those various positions during the day. It's a long day. So you don't want to sit there and do the same thing for 12 hours. So rotating helps a lot. And there's finally a ballot table location where some of the more complex transactions are handled, which probably that's about 5% of the voters. Most of the people flow through pretty quickly and pretty easily.

Andy Hyland 18:20 

You mentioned you wanted to get involved. What drew you to the election work specifically?

Patrick Clark 18:27 

I don't remember exactly. But I remember voting and I knew one of the people who was serving as an election worker. And I chatted with them briefly and on the way out after I had voted, they said, you know, "You should look into this. It's a great way to participate. And we really need a lot of help." And so I thought, "Okay, I'll look into it." And that was a primary election. I think I served in the next general election, and I've been back every election since.

Andy Hyland 18:58 

So who's a good candidate to become an election worker? I mean, what sort of people make good volunteers and participants in this process?

Patrick Clark 19:07 

About anybody, honestly, who's interested. You have to be a resident of Johnson County, registered voter in Johnson County, to begin with. And if anyone has been in a polling location, you can see where our demographic typically draws from. It's from older folks who maybe have more time on their hands. We are always thrilled to welcome younger participants all the way down to high school age. It's actually always a lot of fun to have, like, a high school student or college student in the mix, because they bring just a different energy to the team. And I think virtually everyone who's ever participated has thought that it was a rewarding process. And so, you know, we're open to anyone who has an interest. You're not going to have to stand for 12 hours, you know. Sometimes people are afraid of that. You're going to rotate through the positions. And the supervising judge has the responsibility of taking care of the people who are on his team, his or her team.

Andy Hyland 19:07 

Are there any other misconceptions you think that you might want to clear up for people who might have some barriers or thoughts about wanting to participate?

Patrick Clark 20:20 

I think that the biggest stumbling block for people is the length of the day. There are a lot of people who look at that 12-hour day and say, "Well, why can't you split that up?" It's a continuity issue. Election workers will sign a tape the beginning of the day that says there are no votes on this machine. And we want the same people to sign the tape at the end of the day that tabulates the votes on those machines. So it's just a way to, you know, enhance the integrity of the election. And so that's why we go with the longer shifts.

Andy Hyland 20:55 

Anything else you'd like to share about the process or the people who helped make it go?

Patrick Clark 21:00 

About all I can say is that I really enjoy the process, and almost everyone who I've ever talked to feels a sense of reward by participating in this process and by helping it run smoothly. The other thing, honestly, there have been questions about the election process. Everyone who goes through the training and working as an election worker that I've ever talked to is fully confident in the integrity of our elections. And that's really important. It's important that the elections have integrity. And it's important that people understand that the election process is run with integrity.

Andy Hyland 21:51 

Well, thanks so much for taking some time with us today and for sharing your insights. We really appreciate it. Fred, I think this is a good time to bring you back in. I know on your mind a lot is the safety and security of elections. And so maybe I'd appreciate it if you could talk a little bit about some of the processes that you put in place to make sure that our elections all the time are safe, secure and fair.

Fred Sherman 22:13 

Sure. So probably one of the key cornerstones with conducting elections here in this country, in the state of Kansas and Johnson County is as an individual, when you cast your ballot, your ballot is anonymous. We cannot trace your specific votes back to who cast that ballot. We can tabulate down to the smallest level called the precinct level. So we know everyone in kind of the results of that standpoint. But we put a lot of measures in place where your specific choices, or a voter's specific choices on a specific ballot is not traceable back to that voter. Kansas is a photo ID state. So you have to have some level of government-issued photo ID to vote, and you have to be registered vote. So that's kind of the main thresholds for individuals to vote on them. But we do kind of take care and are very serious in terms of chain of custody, doing the testing of the election equipment before the election. We go through what's called a full logic and accuracy testing process, where we do kind of a mock election and make sure the equipment's working properly, and we'll tabulate these contest races accurately. We do let local law enforcement agencies know that where the voting activities are taking place both during advanced voting as well as Election Day. So we do have put security in mind to the greatest detail, but also to realize it's a private moment for voters that they are able to cast their ballot in private and make their choices and their selections are only known to you as a voter when you cast your ballot.

Andy Hyland 23:46 

Thanks again to both of you for joining us today. And just as a final reminder, you can always find additional information about registration, voting deadlines and all that other good stuff on the Johnson County Elections website:

Announcer 24:00 

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