By VICTORIA CALDERON
• Leader & Times
With the national midterm primary election on Aug. 5 coming up fast, voters in Seward County need to be aware of changes made to the state’s voting laws.
Parts of the Secure and Fair Elections Act, or the SAFE Act, have already been in effect since the presidential election in 2012. The law is best known as the voter ID law, because it requires voters to show a form of photographic identification at the polls.
These photo IDs can be anything from a driver’s license to an ID issued by a college in Kansas.
“It hasn’t changed the way we run elections,” County Clerk and Election Official Stacia Long said. “We have not experienced any resistance to the ID requirement here locally. In fact, it is my experience that for many years, voters were willing and in fact wanted to show their ID. Before it became law, voters often questioned why we didn’t ask for it.”
However, another stipulation in the SAFE Act was not put in effect until after the last national election. The January 2013 requirement makes first-time registering voters provide proof of citizenship before their registration can be considered complete.
Because of this change, 145 voters in Seward County currently have incomplete registrations. Most of these incomplete registrations result from people who registered through the DMV when renewing a license, which does not require proof of citizenship.
According to Long, the Election Office tries its best to contact those people by mail or phone to get the documents they need on file.
Voters can prove citizenship by providing a birth certificate, naturalization documents, a passport, etc.
“Voters whose registrations are incomplete or in suspense due to this reason will be able to vote in the election but are required by law to provide my office with acceptable proof of citizenship documents by the close of business on the day before the election,” Long said. “They can submit their documentation electronically, by fax, email or other electronic means.”
The full list of citizenship documentation, as well as exemptions from the ID requirement and other general information on the SAFE Act, can be found at www.gotvoterid.com.
The next law that will affect voters this year is the HB 2210, or the Party Affiliation Declaration Bill. It will take full force starting July 1, when voters affiliated with a party cannot disaffiliate from it or switch to another party until after Aug. 31.
Unaffiliated voters have more flexibility when it comes to declaring a party. They can choose to affiliate with a party up until the day of the primary election, where they can fill out a written declaration before receiving a ballot. However, the date limitation for switching or disaffiliating after the election applies to these voters as well - they cannot change their party status until after Aug. 31.
New registrants also have some flexibility; they may wait to declare their party until the new voter registration deadline on July 15.
Once Sept. 1 rolls around, voters may change their party affiliation at their leisure until June 1, 2016.
“Primary elections tend to be the most challenging for election officials and voters,” Long said. “Many voters do not understand that in order to vote in a primary election, you have to belong to a party. The purpose of a primary election is for each party to choose which candidates will move on to the general election ballot. Both Democrat and Republican parties have closed primaries, meaning they will only allow people affiliated with their party to vote their ballot.”
Nationally, voter turnout numbers have always been low for midterm elections compared to presidential elections. According to data gathered by the Census Bureau, for the presidential elections of 2000, 2004 and 2008, the average percentage of the voting age population that reported voting was 57.1 percent. Significantly lower was the average from the midterm elections of 1998, 2002 and 2006, at 42.6 percent.
Low turnouts at the polls are also a result from primary elections, both midterm and presidential. This is a trend that is mirrored within Seward County. In the midterm election of 2010, out of 9,468 registered voters, only 2,099 voted in the primary - a mere 22 percent.
Whether this meager turnout is a result of people believing that their vote doesn’t matter or because unaffiliated voters cannot vote in primaries, there are still ways that the Election Office tries to keep the electorate informed and encourage them to vote.
“My staff works very hard at getting information out to voters, such as current candidate filings and deadlines,” Long said. “We make use of current technology in an attempt to reach our younger voters.”
They keep their Facebook page and the county’s Election page up to date with information on the current candidate filings and deadlines. Staying ahead in terms of social media in order to appeal to younger voters is very important to them. Young voters between 18 to 24 years old typically have the lowest turnout rates nationally compared to any other age group. According to information from the Census Bureau, only 21.3 percent of people in this age group reported voting in the 2010 midterm general election.
If there are obstacles to voting, such as being out of town for Election Day, advanced voting is available to the public. Voters can apply for an advance ballot to be sent to them in the mail. The ballots will be sent out on July 16 for the primary election, and the office will continue processing applications up until Aug. 1. Like everyone else, advance voters must turn in their ballots to election officials before 7 p.m. on Election Day.
More information about this year’s election and candidates can be found by going to www.sewardcountyks.org and clicking on the Election link off the Department menu at the top. Information can also be found at www.facebook.com/SewardCountyClerk.ElectionOffice.
Here are some deadlines to keep in mind for the primary and general elections:
• July 1 - Deadline to switch party affiliation
• July 15 - Deadline to register for primary election
• July 16 - Start mailing advance ballots
• July 21 - Advance voting in person begins
• Aug. 1 - Deadline to request advance ballot by mail
• Aug. 4 - Advance voting ends at noon
• Aug. 5 - Primary election day
• Oct. 14 - Deadline to register for general election
• Oct. 31 - Deadline for advance ballot to be mailed
• Nov. 4 - General election day