(TNS) — A Wichita couple has written an open letter to Secretary of State Kris Kobach complaining that they were subjected to "degrading, humiliating, demeaning, and unnecessary drama" in casting their votes in Wichita's District 1 City Council election.
Eugene and Mamie Jewel Anderson didn't get the mail ballots they requested, although they have lived at the same address for 49 years. They had to fill out forms and cast provisional votes when they showed up in person at an advance voting site.
In their letter, the Andersons questioned whether where they live — a historically black area of Wichita — may have been part of the difficulties.
"Well, we jumped through all of those hoops, and were allowed to cast our Provisional ballots," the letter said. "However, we are deeply concerned! Will we experience the same degrading, humiliating, demeaning, and unnecessary drama when we request advance ballots for the non-partisan General Election? Or is there a deeper problem of residing in a specific zip code or something else?"
Kobach spokeswoman Samantha Poetter said the missing ballots were clearly a mistake on the part of the post office and that the election office followed proper protocol.
Brian Sperry, a spokesperson for the postal service, said that a "moved left no address" change of address was on file for a customer who shared the same address.
"Unfortunately, the mail for the current residents was also returned in an administrative error. The Postal Service has apologized to the customer and the election office and taken the appropriate steps to ensure all mail is delivered to the customer in the future," Sperry said, noting that such incidents are isolated.
The Postal Service is "committed to delivering election and political mail in a timely manner," he added.
Voting is a sensitive subject with the Andersons, who are black and grew up in Georgia during the Jim Crow era, when states routinely used tactics such as literacy tests and poll taxes to suppress black votes.
"I had to take a literacy test the first time I registered" in 1961, Eugene Anderson said.
A Vietnam veteran, he said the only times he didn't vote were his three years in the Army when he didn't know about absentee ballots. His wife said the literacy tests were gone by the time she first registered in late 1964.
The Andersons filed July 15 for mail ballots for the City Council election that ends with Election Day on Tuesday.
When they hadn't received their ballots by July 26, they contacted the Sedgwick County election office and were told that the ballots had been returned by the post office.
Sedgwick County election commissioner Tabitha Lehman provided The Eagle with copies of the returned envelopes in which the Andersons' ballots had been mailed. Both were stamped "moved left no address."
They've lived in the same home in the 1800 block of North Poplar since 1968 and are receiving other mail, Eugene Anderson said.
Told the ballots could not be remailed, they went to an advance voting site.
"After presenting our drivers' license and stating our names aloud, we were then informed that our vote could not be cast unless we completed the paperwork to receive a provisional ballot and a new request for an advance voting ballot," the couple wrote in their letter to Kobach.
Lehman said state law requires a provisional vote be used whenever a ballot has already been issued, even though her office has the original mail ballots in hand.
Out of 1,070 mail ballots sent in the election, 52 have been returned as undeliverable mail, Lehman said.
She said she doesn't know what led the Postal Service to return the Andersons' ballots.
Lehman said "the good news is that we'll be able to count (the Andersons') provisional ballots without a problem because it's the only ballot they've submitted. ... It's just unfortunate they had to go through those extra steps and take that extra time."