Jun. 2—A group of voting rights advocates sued Kansas state election officials Tuesday over two controversial laws muscled through the Kansas Legislature last month by Republican lawmakers.
The lawsuit, filed in Shawnee County’s district court by the League of Women Voters of Kansas, Kansas Appleseed and Loud Light argued that provisions of two bills altering election laws violate the state and U.S. constitution by suppressing speech and disenfranchising voters. The groups further contend that the changes were made in the absence of any evidence that the state’s elections are insecure.
“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.”
The two bills were approved over Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto. They were part of a nationwide push by Republican state legislators to use unfounded claims of voter fraud during the 2020 election as grounds for revising election rules.
Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a defendant in the suit, who has said that Kansas had “free and fair” elections in 2020, declined to comment on pending litigation before his office had been formally served.
A spokesperson for state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, another defendant, did not immediately respond to The Star’s request for comment.
Though Kelly and Democrats in the Legislature decried the bills as voter suppression, Republican proponents said they were a necessary step to prevent future election problems in Kansas.
The bills made several revisions to voting law, placing limits on the number of advance ballots a Kansan can return on behalf of other voters and curbing the powers of the Governor, Secretary of State and courts over elections.
Davis Hammet, founder of Loud Light, a state voting rights organization, said he’d warned lawmakers prior to their votes on the bills that he believed there were 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.”
The lawsuit targeted four provisions of the bills including:
Making it a crime to “give the appearance of being an election official.”
Banning distribution of advance mail applications from out-of-state groups.
Requiring election officials to match signatures on mail-in-ballots with voter signatures on file before counting the vote.
Making it a misdemeanor to return more than 10 mail-in ballots on behalf of other voters.
Hammet said he and other Loud Light volunteers have been mistaken for election officials in the past. That could be illegal under the new law, which does not take into account whether a person actually intends to pose as an election official.
“We’re all nervous that if we go out and do these activities can we go to jail,” he said.
Other issues raised include a $20 advance voting application fee the voting rights groups say will harm low-income voters. They also raised concerns about the method by which the state would evaluate signature-matching on ballots, saying the currently outlined process would cause voters to be “disenfranchised as the result of inexpert and arbitrary decisions by elections officials.”
The lawsuit is calling for the new laws to be recognized as civil rights violations and seeks to prevent them from being enforced.