The Kansas Court of Appeals on Friday reinstated a lawsuit challenging provisions of a voting law enacted in 2021 that opponents argue is unconstitutional and limits voting rights.
The lawsuit was filed in 2021 by Loud Light, the League of Women Voters of Kansas, the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center, and the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.
They challenged provisions of a law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that limits the number of mail-in early ballots individuals can collect and requires election officials to check signatures on an early ballot against a voter registration record. person.
Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach said Friday that he would appeal the ruling.
Supporters of the law argued that restricting people from collecting and returning more than 10 early ballots per election would reduce “ballot collection” and limit voter fraud. Democratic Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed the measure, but lawmakers overrode her veto.
Friday’s unanimous opinion, written by Justice Stephen Hill, said both provisions impair the right to vote.
“It was through free elections that we obtained statehood. Therefore, voting rights are preserved in the Kansas Constitution,” Hill wrote. “Extreme care must be taken when trying to limit or infringe those rights. Voting was important then. Voting is important now.”
The court remanded the suit to Shawnee County District Court Judge Teresa Watson, who originally dismissed it in April 2022 after finding the restrictions were reasonable. The sentence does not repeal the law. But it requires Watson to review the lawsuit through “strict scrutiny,” which is the highest standard of legal review.
Kobach called the ruling “the most sweeping election law decision in the country.” He said the signature verification requirement protects people from having their votes stolen. He did not address the provision limiting vote collection.
“It is clearly wrong,” Kobach said in a statement. “The decision is directly contrary to what the United States Supreme Court has said, as well as what all state supreme courts have said on the matter.”
Davis Hammet, executive director of Loud Light, noted that the ruling does not address whether the law is constitutional, but said it is still a victory for voters.
“He clarified that the right to vote is a fundamental constitutional right and said that when election laws are challenged, the courts will apply the highest level of scrutiny to those laws,” Hammet said.
Hammet said the ruling is especially important after unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was invalid, sparking a wave of misinformation and voter suppression laws across the country.
“What the court said here is that (lawmakers) can’t just restrict the right to vote,” he said. “If you have a restriction, it has to be there for a compelling reason. You have to show that you’re not just stopping people from voting or making their votes count.”
Jacqueline Lightcap, co-chair of the Kansas League of Women Voters, said the ruling supports many arguments that voter advocates have been making since 2021.
“We think the judge makes some great points in saying that voting is a fundamental right and that the earlier case was rushed out of district court,” Lightcap said. “We are very excited to have the opportunity to be heard again.”
Secretary of State Scott Schwab said his office was reviewing the decision, but said it “appeared to be a substantive change in the judicial standard of reviewing state election laws.”
Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, called the decision “shocking” and said it jeopardizes all current election integrity laws.
“I am confident that Attorney General Kobach will quickly appeal this egregious decision, and House Republicans will support his efforts in every way possible,” Hawkins said.
The Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments last month on another provision of the law, which makes it a crime to impersonate election officials. Opponents said the provision would make it more difficult to conduct voter registration drives.