TOPEKA — Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez said Tuesday that she won’t prosecute anyone under a new state law that caused nonprofits to halt voter registration efforts at the start of July, but the groups won’t immediately resume engaging with local voters.
The legislation’s sweeping reforms include a provision that makes it illegal for individuals to engage in conduct that would cause someone to believe they are an election official. Valdez said the law is vague and subjective, and that it is already illegal to impersonate an election official.
The inevitable effect of the law is to weaken voter engagement efforts, she said.
“This is not a partisan issue,” Valdez said. “This law criminalizes essential efforts by trusted nonpartisan groups like the League of Women Voters to engage Kansans on participation in accessible, accountable and fair elections. It is too vague and too broad and threatens to create felons out of dedicated defenders of democracy.”
Jill Jess, a spokeswoman for Valdez, said the district attorney’s office would refuse to prosecute anybody under any other provision of the new law, which also deals with signature matching, tampering with mail-in ballots and obstructing election workers.
“The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office is focused on real issues of public safety and justice,” Jess said. “This is a law looking for a problem, and much of what it covers is already covered by other statutes.”
The announcement by Valdez follows the decision by the League of Women Voters of Kansas and Loud Light to halt voter registration efforts for fear of being charged with a felony. The nonprofits are among those who filed a lawsuit in Shawnee County District Court to challenge the constitutionality of House Bill 2183.
District Judge Teresa Watson has not yet ruled on a request for a temporary injunction, which would block enforcement of the law while the case is litigated.
Leaders of the nonprofits said they still don’t feel comfortable engaging with voters in Douglas County, even with the district attorney’s blessing.
“This doesn’t change anything for us at this time,” said Jacqueline Lightcap, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas. “We feel there are still many unknowns related to this law and look forward to getting clarity soon.”
Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, said Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office — which is defending the lawsuit — also has the authority to file charges for violations of the new law.
“I’m glad that district attorney recognizes these laws are overly broad, unconstitutional voter suppression laws, but the A.G. would still be able to prosecute these,” Hammett said. “You would still have this situation where police officers can arrest you.”
Hammet said the stakes are too high. Under the law, false representation of an election official is a felony crime with a punishment of up to 17 months in prison and a $100,000 fine.
“We’d be in a different position if it’s like a parking ticket, but it’s nothing like that,” Hammet said.
The GOP-led Legislature capitalized on the outcry over former President Donald Trump’s lies about widespread voter fraud. There were no problems with Kansas elections last year, and the changes in law do not address the known security vulnerabilities or extraordinarily rare examples of voter fraud in Kansas.
Hammet said concerns about the law’s impact on voter registration efforts were raised during conference committee negotiations, before lawmakers advanced the bill for votes by the House and Senate.
“Legislators were aware of this,” Hammet said.
Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus 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: email@example.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.
Weeks after announcing her office would not prosecute violations of a new Kansas law that criminalizes giving the appearance of an election worker, Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez on Saturday will join a panel of election experts to discuss the state’s voter laws.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt reinforced Monday that his office would, in fact, prosecute a law that caused activist groups to cease voter registration drives for fear of felony charges — including in Douglas County, where District Attorney Suzanne Valdez said her office would not enforce the law.
Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez announced Tuesday that she would not prosecute violations of a newly effective law in the state of Kansas that makes it a felony for individuals to engage in conduct that would make a person think they are an elections worker.