ACLU of Kansas intervenes on behalf of voters in multiple counties ahead of primary election

By: - July 28, 2022 9:20 am
Atchison County attached stickers to advanced mail ballots asking voters to check a box saying they have not violated state law by delivering more than 10 ballots. The ACLU of Kansas intervened to make sure ballots would be counted regardless of whether the box was checked. (Submitted)

Atchison County attached stickers to advanced mail ballots asking voters to check a box saying they have not violated state law by delivering more than 10 ballots. The ACLU of Kansas intervened to make sure ballots would be counted regardless of whether the box was checked. (Submitted)

TOPEKA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has helped resolve election-related concerns in counties around the state in advance of next week’s primary.

The organization runs a nonpartisan “election protection” hotline to ensure safe and accessible voting, and it will deploy trained poll observers next week.

“We’ve intervened in four or five different matters at this point to ensure people have access to voting or that electioneering isn’t happening,” said Sharon Brett, legal director for the ACLU of Kansas. “And so it sort of shows the value of this program, and I know it will get even busier as we get closer to Election Day.”

Concerns about ballot access have been heightened by interest in the constitutional amendment on abortion, the first public vote on abortion rights since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The ACLU of Kansas has intervened twice in Atchison County.

Michelle Phillips, the Atchison County clerk, initially ended voter registration for the Aug. 2 primary on June 23, because of an upcoming special election in the city of Atchison. After the ACLU notified Phillips that she was violating federal law, and eligible voters had until July 12 to register, Phillips agreed to reach out to every new voter her office had turned away and let them know they could register and participate in the primary.

Phillips also created concerns by placing a sticker on advanced mail ballots that asked voters to check a box declaring they have not delivered more than 10 ballots on behalf of other persons, a reference to a new state law aimed at discouraging volunteers who help people get their ballots to drop boxes or election offices.

“We had concerns about how the election office would handle ballots returned without that box checked,” said Esmie Tseng, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Kansas. “They have since confirmed that ballots will be counted regardless of whether this box has been checked.”

In Reno County, the election office was training poll workers to allow voters to wear clothing with the logos of campaigns for or against the constitutional amendment on abortion because the logos may not explicitly say “vote yes” or “vote no.” The instruction raised concerns because the campaigns are clearly associated with a position on the amendment, which amounts to electioneering.

After a conversation with Brett, the Reno County attorney agreed to instruct poll workers to require any voters wearing logos for campaigns on the amendment to remove the language or vote curbside.

The ACLU of Kansas intervened in Ellis County to ensure individuals who had completed probation or parole were allowed to register to vote, in compliance with state law. They had attempted to register to vote but were denied.

The ACLU of Kansas election protection hotline is available at 866-687-8683 for English and 888-839-8682 for Spanish.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.

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