Federal lawsuit challenges Kansas’ new advance mail balloting process

    A pair of nonprofit organizations supportive of advance mail voting filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging Kansas' new restrictions on the process of acquiring an advance ballot. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)
    A pair of nonprofit organizations supportive of advance mail voting filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging Kansas' new restrictions on the process of acquiring an advance ballot. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

    TOPEKA — A pair of nonprofit organizations working to encourage voting by mail Wednesday filed a lawsuit to block enforcement of a new Kansas law banning out-of-state entities from sending advance mail ballot applications to voters in the state.

    VoteAmerica and the Voter Participation Center, which are represented in U.S. District Court by the Campaign Legal Center, asserted the reforms in Kansas restricted political speech and activity in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and conflicted with the commerce clause.

    Kansas lawmakers criminalized mailing of advance mail ballot applications that were personalized with the voter’s name, address and other information — even if the prospective voter provided the information and requested an application.

    Changes at the root of the case were part of House Bill 2332, which was vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly but upheld when the Republican-led 2021 Legislature voted to override the Democratic governor. Defendants in the suit are Secretary of State Scott Schwab, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe.

    Debra Cleaver, VoteAmerica founder and chief executive officer, said record turnout in the 2020 elections, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrated the public’s desire to make use of advance balloting. The Kansas statute at heart of the suit is “suppressive” and “undemocratic,” she said.

    Paul Smith, vice president for litigation and strategy at the Campaign Legal Center, said Kansas’ attack on advance mail voting was unconstitutional.

    “Beyond just targeting voters, however, laws like HB 2332 specifically take aim at the ability of nonpartisan, public interest organizations to help people navigate confusing systems and encourage them to exercise their ability to vote by mail,” Smith said.

    On Tuesday, a group of Kansas organizations filed suit in state court to challenge provisions of the same bill as well as a second package of election law adjustments that emerged from the Capitol this session.

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    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.