Kansas agrees new mail ballot restrictions are unconstitutional, will pay legal fees

By: - February 28, 2022 10:39 am
Voters line up in cars on Oct. 20, 2020, to deliver mail ballots at a Shawnee County drop box in Topeka. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

Voters line up in cars on Oct. 20, 2020, to deliver mail ballots at a Shawnee County drop box in Topeka. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A federal court on Friday struck down parts of a new Kansas law that criminalized the distribution of advance mail ballot applications.

The state agreed not to object to arguments raised by nonprofit organizations that said the 2021 law violates the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The state also agreed not to appeal the decision and will pay attorney fees and court costs of the plaintiffs.

Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed House Bill 2332 last year, but the law was upheld by the GOP supermajority in the Legislature. Motivated by bogus claims of widespread voter fraud in other states, lawmakers targeted out-of-state groups that bombarded voters in 2020 with applications to receive advance ballots.

VoteAmerica and the Voter Participation Center, which were represented in court by the Campaign Legal Center, filed the lawsuit last year against Secretary of State Scott Schwab, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil issued a temporary order in November blocking enforcement of the law. In her Friday order, Vratil said the contested sections of the law violate the U.S. Constitution.

“This is a big win for civic engagement groups nationwide,” said Danielle Lang, voting rights director at Campaign Legal Center. “Legislators are taking needless aim at folks that are just trying to give voters the materials they need to participate. This decision should serve as a warning to those who target them.”

The law banned the distribution of mail ballot applications by out-of-state groups and made it a crime to send mail ballot applications with the voter’s name and address already filled out.

Tom Lopach, president and CEO of the Voter Participation Center, said the court order will allow civic engagement groups to continue working to make voting access easier.

“We’re proud that we fought back against this effort to limit access to our democracy and won,” Lopach said. “At the Voter Participation Center, we will keep fighting to overturn anti-voter efforts and ensure every American can make their voice heard.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.