Litigants file appeal of Kansas judge’s dismissal of lawsuit challenging election restrictions

Kelly fought disenfranchising legislation; Schmidt hailed election integrity victory

By: - April 12, 2022 12:37 pm
A Shawnee County District Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Kansas that questioned constitutionality of voting reforms adopted by the Kansas Legislature in 2021. (Hill Street Studios/Getty Images)

A Shawnee County District Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Kansas that questioned constitutionality of voting reforms adopted by the Kansas Legislature in 2021. (Hill Street Studios/Getty Images)

TOPEKA — A Shawnee County District Court judge issued a decision dismissing a lawsuit filed by four organizations and several individuals challenging constitutionality of 2021 election mandates vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly but sustained by the Kansas Legislature.

Judge Teresa Watson, appointed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in 2014, dismissed the suit Monday contesting signature verification requirements on advanced ballots and restrictions on political operatives collecting absentee ballots from voters and transporting them to polling places or election offices.

League of Women Voters of Kansas, Loud Light, Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center filed an appeal asserting dismissal of the case was a mistake. The plaintiffs claimed House Bill 2183 and House Bill 2332, passed in the 2021 legislative session, violated the Kansas Constitution by interfering with Kansans’ voting, due process and free speech and association rights.

“With primary elections just around the corner, voters need swift action to protect them against these anti-voter laws,” said Jacqueline Lightcap, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas. “The longer justice for voters is delayed, the less time we have to educate them on how to make their voices heard in the election.”

Teresa Woody, Kansas Appleseed’s litigation director, said the district court judge’s dismissal meant Kansans’ right to vote and exercise political free speech remained under attack.

“The state’s enactment of these cynical statutes, where evidence of election fraud is non-existent, unconstitutionally stifles Kansans’ votes and access to the polls,” Woody said.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, said the state “successfully defended these important election-integrity provisions.”

“We will continue to provide them a vigorous defense as long as necessary to help ensure that Kansas elections are safe and secure,” he said.

Schmidt and Secretary of State Scott Schwab, who is the state’s top elections official, were named as defendants in the lawsuit. The state was represented in the case by attorneys at the Hinkle Law Firm in Wichita.

Kelly, a candidate for re-election in November, said when vetoing the two bills that restrictive legislation wasn’t based on evidence of consequential voter misconduct in Kansas. She said the bills offered a solution to a “problem that doesn’t exist” and was intended to “disenfranchise Kansans” by making it more difficult to participate in the democratic process. She said the legislation didn’t have anything to do with voter fraud.

“Although Kansans have cast millions of ballots over the last decade, there remains no evidence of significant voter fraud in Kansas,” she said. “We also know what happens when states enact restrictive voting legislation. Hundreds of major companies across the nation have made it abundantly clear that this kind of legislation is wrong. Antagonizing the very businesses Kansas is trying to recruit is not how we continue to grow our economy.”

Legal challenges to portions of the two bills were filed in state and federal courts.

A U.S. District Court struck down in November a provision banning any person from mailing an advance voting application or causing an application to be mailed, unless the sender was a resident of Kansas or domiciled in Kansas. The state of Kansas agreed not to enforce that provision in a binding consent decree.

The challenge of a prohibition on mailing of advance mail ballot applications personalized with a voter’s information remains in litigation at the federal level.

A state district court upheld in September a portion of the legislation related to false representation of an election official is on appeal to the Kansas Court of Appeals.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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