Voting rights advocates sue over 2 new Kansas election laws

Vote here sign at Kansas voting site

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Three voting rights groups are suing Kansas election officials over two Republican-backed election laws that were passed over the veto of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.

The League of Women Voters of Kansas, Kansas Appleseed and Loud Light contend in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the laws are unconstitutional because they suppress free speech and disenfranchise voters.

One statute limits how many ballots groups or individuals may collect and deliver to election officials, a practice used by some Democrats and Democratic-leaning groups for decades to help disabled, elderly and poor voters. The second law reduces the power the governor, secretary of state and courts have to change election laws.

The lawsuit filed in Shawnee County District Court asks the court to find the laws unconstitutional and to prevent them from being enforced.

Kelly vetoed the bills in April but the Republican-led Legislature overrode the veto last month.

Republican supporters of the measures say they are needed to ensure the integrity of elections by preventing fraud.

Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, described the groups that filed the lawsuit as “left-wing groups who are opposed to securing our elections.”

“The fact that they are challenging modest limits on ballot harvesting and rules against impersonation of an election official demonstrates how radical these groups are,” Masterson said in a statement.

The voting rights groups contend Republican supporters of the new laws have presented no evidence that Kansas elections are not secure.

“In most instances, the Legislature relied on little more than vague references to concerns about elections integrity or fraud that was rumored to have occurred in other states,” the lawsuit said. “Yet, no legislator pointed to even a single instance of fraud precipitating the need for these drastic changes.”

Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a defendant in the lawsuit, who says Kansas had “free and fair” elections in 2020, declined to comment on the lawsuit before his office had been formally served, The Wichita Eagle reported.

A spokesperson for state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, another defendant, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Davis Hammet, founder of Loud Light, a state voting rights organization, said he told lawmakers before they voted that the laws would pose constitutional concerns.

“When you make up a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist you make new problems,” Hammet said. “The legislature responded to a lie and used it as the basis for disenfranchising Kansans in the name of improving election integrity.”

One law makes it a misdemeanor for someone to collect and return more than 10 ballots or “give the appearance of being an election official.”

Hammet said he and other Loud Light volunteers have been mistaken for election officials in past elections.

“We’re all nervous that if we go out and do these activities can we go to jail?” he said.

The lawsuit also contends a $20 advance voting application fee would harm low-income voters, and a method used to match signatures on ballots would cause voters to be “disenfranchised as the result of inexpert and arbitrary decisions by elections officials.”