Appeals Court rules for Kansans fighting voter restrictions

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A lawsuit against Kansas voter restrictions has been reinstated with a Kansas Court of Appeals ruling on Friday. But Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach said the court’s decision “is clearly wrong,” and he plans to appeal it.

The lawsuit

Several groups, including the League of Women Voters of Kansas, the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center, and the Kansas Appleseed Center, have said that Kansas laws restrict voter rights. As a result, they sued the Kansas Secretary of State and the Kansas Attorney General.

The issues involve advance ballots. One requires election officials to reject advance ballots in which the voter’s signature does not match the voter’s signature on file.

The groups say those two issues violate the fundamental right to vote under the Kansas Constitution. They say the signature-matching requirement could disenfranchise the elderly, disabled, sick, young or non-native English speakers. They cited a study that found laypersons rejected authentic signatures 26% of the time.

The other issue is the Kansas law that makes it a crime for someone to deliver more than 10 advance ballots to election officials on behalf of other voters.

The groups say it is common for volunteers to get completed advance ballots from communities with mobility issues, such as nursing homes, and then deliver the ballots to election officials. The groups say there can be a lot more than 10 ballots being delivered.

Court of Appeals ruling

In its ruling, the Kansas Court of Appeals said, “The right to vote is a fundamental right protected by the Kansas Consitution.”

“Because the right to vote is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Kansas Constitution, an act that infringes on that right must be strictly scrutinized to determine if it is enforceable.”

The judges said the signature-matching requirement impairs the right to vote. But they sent the case back to Shawnee County District Court to give the State the chance “to show that the statute can overcome strict scrutiny.”

The judges also said the ballot collection restriction impairs the right to vote. They also remanded it to the district court.

The Court of Appeals ruling ends with the importance of the right to vote.

History records the struggle Kansans experienced when joining the Union of States. It was by free elections that we gained statehood. Thus, voting rights are preserved in the Kansas Constitution. Great care must be taken when trying to limit or infringe on those rights. Voting was important then. Voting is important now.”

Judge Stephen Hill, Kansas Court of Appeals

Click here to read the 48-page decision.

AG and Secretary of State respond

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach called the Court’s decision radical and clearly wrong. He plans to appeal.

“The decision is directly contrary to what the U.S. Supreme Court has said, as well as what every state supreme court has said on the matter,” he said in a statement.

Kobach also called the decision illogical.

“Having election officials make sure that it is your signature on your advance ballot doesn’t hurt your right to vote,” he said. “It protects your vote from being stolen by someone else. This is especially true because the Kansas statute gives the voter a second chance to sign again when the signatures don’t match.”

Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab is also named in the lawsuit. He said his office is currently reviewing the Court’s opinion.

“This opinion appears to be a substantial change to the judicial standard of reviewing state election laws,” Schwab said.

The Kansas Republican Party also issued a statement calling the Court of Appeals judges activists and saying they compromised Kansas’ election integrity.

The decision is not only erroneous, it is large in scope and has the potential to overturn nearly ever law ever passed to secure the integrity of our elections. The Kansas Republican Party stands behind the statement made by Speaker Hawkins, and supports Attorney General Kobach in his fight to protect the integrity of our elections.”

Kansas Republican Party

Plaintiffs’ responses

Even though the Kansas Court of Appeals is sending the lawsuit back to the district court, the groups who sued for voter rights consider Friday’s ruling a win.

The League of Women Voters of Kansas posted this message on social media:

“Exciting news from the Kansas Court of Appeals today! The fight is not over, but this is very positive news.”

“As a disability-led organization, the Court of Appeal’s direction to allow presentation of our issues and evidence lifts up the voices of people who take the right to vote very seriously,” Ami Hyten, Topeka Independent Living Center executive director, said. “We anxiously await the opportunity for a meaningful review of disabled voters’ concerns about the challenged laws and their harmful impacts on voter registration activities and processes that could result in our votes not being counted.”

Kansas Appleseed posted its response on Facebook:

GREAT NEWS! Voting is officially ruled a FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT under the Kansas Constitution!

The Kansas Appeals Court has unanimously ruled that restrictions on voting must pass a strict scrutiny balancing test, the strongest protection available. This has the potential to greatly strengthen voting rights in Kansas!!!”

Kansas Appleseed