Colton Swaim: Don’t let the Kansas Legislature restrict our right to vote (Column)

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We know that the 2020 election was secure. Claims of fraud and abuse nationwide and here in Kansas have proven largely unfounded. The Kansas Secretary of State’s office has testified to that. So why are Republicans in the state legislature so intent on feeding this baseless conspiracy theory?

As a fellow for Loud Light during this legislative session, I’ve listened to members of the Kansas House Elections Committee and others talk at length about fixing problems that don’t exist. 

Republican legislators this session have attempted to disenfranchise voters at every turn, rather than protecting our fundamental voting rights. Kansas House bills HB2183 and HB2332, which just passed in the legislature, are transparent in their efforts to undermine our right to vote.

For instance, HB2183 makes it a misdemeanor to assist more than 10 people with submitting advance ballots — with a penalty of as much as six months in jail for the heinous crime of helping voters carry out their civic duty. Overcriminalization is nothing new for our state legislature, but this is a particularly egregious example. 

During a hearing for this bill, a group of Catholic nuns testified in opposition. They suggested that this bill could make it burdensome to vote, as they would be forced to either send more people to deliver ballots or take them all individually. Voting should not be a laborious undertaking, but that’s exactly what this bill was designed to create. 

The average person is not an expert on election laws, especially when the government attempts to change them on a whim. How many people could end up accidentally breaking the law just because they delivered ballots on behalf of disabled, elderly or other members of their community? We shouldn’t have to worry about committing a crime because of some arbitrary, confusing rules designed to obstruct the free exercise of democracy. 

Additional instructions to follow just increase anxiety over whether you’re doing the right thing. This past election, I constantly read the instructions on my ballot to make sure I was following the law. Voters don’t need more rules to stress about. 

Also included in HB2183 is a provision that makes a felony out of actions that “would cause another person to believe” that someone is an election official. Not only is this an incredibly broad definition, but it puts voter-advocacy groups like my organization, Loud Light, in danger of criminal charges for helping people register to vote. This sort of law doesn’t instill trust in the system; it just penalizes with reckless abandon. It’s really not a good look for our state. 

These bills hopefully will be vetoed by the governor and sent back to the Legislature. If so, we all have to do our part and pressure our elected officials to not override the veto. These bills could set a dangerous precedent for far more restrictive laws in the future. 

The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was based on the same lies about election fraud that are being propagated by our state legislators. We’ve got to call these lies out whenever we hear them. 

If the past few months have taught me anything, it’s that our democracy is fragile. To protect our institutions and each other, we’ve got to stand up for the right to vote. 

If public confidence mattered, we would expect lawmakers to call out disinformation instead of promoting conspiracies about fraud and stolen elections. We deserve better from the people who are supposed to represent us. 

— Colton Swaim (he/him) is a Political Science major and Religious Studies minor at Washburn University and a fellow for Loud Light. He is passionate about a variety of social issues, including voting rights, climate change, and racial justice. He also greatly enjoys 80s music and culture. You can follow him on Twitter, @cswaim25.

Related coverage from the Kansas News Service:

• April 12, 2021: Lawmakers finalize effort to limit mail voting in Kansas

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