Kansas Constitution Does Not Include Voting Rights, State Supreme Court Majority Says

The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday presented a mixed ruling combining several challenges to a 2021 election law, siding with state officials on one provision, reviving challenges on others and offering the possibility that at least one be suspended before this year’s general elections. .

But it was the majority opinion of the ballot signature verification measure — which declared that there was no right to vote enshrined in the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights — that sparked a strong dissent from three of the court’s seven judges.

The measure requires election officials to match registrations on early absentee ballots with a person’s voter registration record. The state Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s dismissal of that lawsuit, but the majority rejected arguments from voting rights groups that the measure violated the state’s constitutional voting rights.

In fact, Justice Caleb Stegall, writing for the majority, said the dissenting justices wrongly accused the majority of ignoring past precedent, finding that the court had failed to identify a “fundamental right to vote” in the state constitution.

“It’s just not there,” Stegall wrote.

Justice Eric Rosen, one of three dissenters, replied: “It astounds me to conclude that Kansas citizens do not have a fundamental right to vote under their state constitution. »

“I cannot and will not tolerate this betrayal of our constitutional duty to safeguard the fundamental rights of Kansans,” Rosen added.

Conversely, the High Court unanimously sided with challenges to a different provision that criminalizes giving the appearance of an election official. Voting rights groups, including the Kansas League of Women Voters and the nonprofit Loud Light, have argued that the measure suppresses free speech and their right to register voters because some might wrongly assume that volunteers are election workers, thereby exposing them to the risk of criminal prosecution.

A Shawnee County District Court judge previously denied the groups’ request for an emergency injunction, saying impersonating a public official does not constitute protected speech.

But the high court criticized the new law, noting that it does not require prosecutors to demonstrate the intent of a registered voter to misrepresent or deceive people into believing he or she is is an official election, and that it thus “criminalizes honest speech” when “casual misunderstandings” are unavoidable, Stegall wrote in the majority opinion.

“As such, it sweeps protected speech into its net,” Stegall said.

Given that the lawsuit over the constitutionality of the false identity theft law is likely to proceed, the state Supreme Court ordered the lower court to reconsider issuing an emergency injunction to its against.

“For three years now, Kansas League of Women Voters volunteers have been forced to significantly limit their assistance to voters because of this ambiguous and threatening law,” said Martha Pint, chapter president. “The League’s essential voter assistance work does not constitute a crime, and we are confident that this provision will be quickly blocked when the case returns to district court.” »

Loud Light Executive Director Davis Hammet said he hopes the lower court “will end the irreparable harm caused daily by the law and allow us to resume voter registration before the general election.”

Neither Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab nor state Attorney General Kris Kobach responded to requests for comment on this part of the high court’s ruling.

Instead, in a joint statement, Schwab and Kobach focus on the high court’s language strengthening the signature law and maintaining a provision that says individuals cannot collect more than 10 ballots. early voting to submit verification to election officials.

“This decision allows us to preserve reasonable election security laws in Kansas,” Schwab said.

Supporters have argued that restricting ballot collection combats “Collection of ballot papers” and limits electoral fraud. The Republican-led Legislature passed it despite the veto of Kansas’ Democratic governor. Laura Kelly. Critics said it was a Republican reaction to baseless allegations that the 2020 election was invalid, leading to a wave of misinformation and voter suppression laws across the country.

Last year, the Kansas Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit challenge the limitation on ballot collection And signature verification, claiming both infringe on the right to vote. But the high court upheld the limit on ballot collection, saying “voters have numerous means to deliver their ballots” and that ballot collection does not fall within the parameters of freedom of voting. ‘expression.

Kobach defended the majority opinion as “well-reasoned” and says Parliament has the constitutional power to establish evidence “to ensure that voters are who they say they are.”

“And that’s exactly what Kansas’ signature verification requirement is,” Kobach said.

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