June 14, 2021
Lawrence, US 68 F
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Federal lawsuit challenges Kansas’ new advance mail balloting process

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.

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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.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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