TOPEKA — Voting rights groups are appealing the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging a 2021 election law they fear could impact voter registration efforts and suppress voters.
The Kansas Court of Appeals last month declined to block the law, which criminalizes the impersonation of an election official, among other things. The court ruled that the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the unconstitutionality of this law because they had not demonstrated that their work had been harmed by this provision.
But voting rights groups say they have suspended voter registration work for the past year because of the law. In deciding to appeal the decision, the groups argued that someone would have to be ‘arrested, charged, tried, convicted and sentenced to prison’ before they could challenge the law under the majority opinion. of the Court of Appeal.
“Kansas voters rely on the league for important election information each year and currently the Kansas league has suspended all in-person voter registration activities, even ahead of our primary elections in August,” Jacqueline said. Lightcap, co-chair of the Women’s League. Kansas voters. “In a critical election year, we need the court to strike down the law and make it clear that voluntary organizations can register voters without the threat of criminal or civil penalties.”
The Kansas League of Women Voters is joined by Loud Light, the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center in the appeal. The lawsuit filed by the same groups last year also challenged other elements of the bill, including limitations on who can deliver advanced mail-in voting and signature verification.
The state argued that the provisions for impersonating an election official require them to act “knowingly.”
Voting rights groups argue that by allowing the law to continue unchecked, Kansas election activities will be undermined. Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, said it would hurt civic participation statewide.
“An appeals court judge upheld our understanding that Kansans can be arrested and charged with a crime for registering voters, but the majority chose to dismiss the case instead of protecting Kansans and our democracy from the unconstitutional Voter Suppression Act,” Hammet said. “Now thousands of young Kansans that Loud Light is believed to have enrolled over the past year will show up on August 2 to learn for the first time that they had to enroll several weeks in advance.”
The report details how voter suppression creates a negative feedback loop, as elected officials are most influenced by those who vote, often ignoring people who cannot vote due to systemic measures. This results in health disparities, feelings of alienation and other negative coping mechanisms, according to the report.
An analysis of voter turnout by county in 2016 and 2018, compared to county health outcomes using primarily 2020 data, showed a moderate overall correlation between the two, but the relationship was stronger on the lower end of the spectrum. voter turnout. Only Atchison County, of all counties with voter turnout below 57 percent, had above-average health outcomes.
Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, senior coordinator of New Frontiers, a youth community engagement project, said efforts needed to be made to change the perspectives of decision-makers.
“The system is designed to disengage people,” Rangel-Lopez said. “It makes people so tired, so they end up giving up and moving on.”
The 2021 law is one of a slew of similar measures imposing new penalties across the country on election officials, or those impersonating them in this case.
In Johnson County, Sheriff Calvin Hayden is requesting that sheriff’s deputies be present at the Johnson County election office when counting ballots in the upcoming election. According to KCUR reports, Hayden’s office is investigating fraud in the 2020 election without providing details or evidence.
The voting rights groups hope their appeal will be successful, given the dissenting opinion of Justice Stephen Hill. He said his colleagues’ reasoning made it difficult for the court to stop problematic government action before it happened.
“This opinion threatens the ability of organizations and individuals to challenge the constitutionality of Kansas laws before their application causes irreparable harm, particularly by affecting the fundamental right to participate in electoral activities and to vote, and therefore Kansas Appleseed believes that it should be appealed,” said Teresa Woody, Kansas Appleseed’s director of litigation.