State Supreme Court Rules Kansas Constitution Lacks Explicit Right to Vote

State Supreme Court Rules Kansas Constitution Lacks Explicit Right to Vote

In a decision released Friday, the Kansas Supreme Court mixed up several challenges to an election law for 2021. The court sided with state officials on one provision, brought back challenges to others, and made it possible that at least one would be stopped before this year’s general election.

However three of the court’s seven justices strongly disagreed with the majority decision on the ballot signature verification measure. They said that the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights does not protect the right to vote.

The bill says that election workers have to check the signatures on advance mail ballots against a person’s record as a registered voter. The state Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s decision to throw out the case, but most of the judges did not agree with voting rights groups’ claims that the measure violated their rights under the state constitution.

Justice Caleb Stegall wrote for the majority and said that the judges who were not in agreement were wrong to say that the majority was not following past decisions, saying that the court has not found a “fundamental right to vote” in the state constitution.

Stegall wrote, “It just isn’t there.”

Justice Eric Rosen, one of the three who didn’t agree, replied, “It amazes me that you think Kansas citizens don’t have a basic right to vote under their state constitution.”

Rosen also said, “I cannot and will not stand for this violation of our constitutional duty to protect the basic rights of Kansans.”

On the other hand, the high court agreed with the people who were challenging a different law that says it is illegal to act like an election official. Voting rights groups, like the Kansas League of Women Voters and the charity Loud Light, said the bill limits free speech and their ability to register voters because people might think volunteers are election workers, which could put them at risk of being charged with a crime.

Before, a judge in Shawnee County District Court turned down the groups’ request for an emergency injunction, saying that pretending to be a public figure is not protected speech.

However, the high court didn’t like the new law because it doesn’t require prosecutors to show that a voter registration volunteer meant to misrepresent or trick people into thinking they were an election official. As a result, Stegall wrote in the majority opinion, that the law “criminalizes honest speech” in a place where “occasional misunderstandings” are bound to happen.

Stegall said, “In this way, it includes protected speech in its net.”

The state Supreme Court told the lower court to think again about issuing an emergency injunction against the false impersonation law because the case over its constitutionality is likely to win.

“Because this law isn’t clear and is dangerous, Kansas League of Women Voters volunteers have had to severely limit their help with voters for three years now,” said Martha Pint, president of the chapter. “The League’s important work helping people vote is not a crime, and we are sure that this part of the law will be quickly blocked when the case goes back to the district court.”

Davis Hammet, the executive director of Loud Light, said that he hopes the lower court will “stop the irreparable harm caused daily by the law and allow us to resume voter registration before the general election.”

When asked to speak on that part of the high court’s decision, neither Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab nor State Attorney General Kris Kobach did so.

In a joint statement, Schwab and Kobach instead talk about how the high court supported the signature verification law and upheld a rule that says people can only collect 10 advance votes to give to election officials.

Schwab said, “This ruling lets us keep reasonable election security laws in Kansas.”

People who support the limit on collecting ballots say it stops “ballot harvesting” and stops election fraud. Even though Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly wanted to veto it, the GOP-led Legislature passed it anyway. Some people think it’s the Republicans’ response to false claims that the 2020 election wasn’t real, which led to a lot of false information and laws across the country that made it harder for people to vote.

Last year, the Kansas Court of Appeals brought back a case that questioned the limits on collecting ballots and the verification of signatures, saying that both of these things hurt people’s right to vote. But the high court upheld the ban on collecting ballots, saying that “voters have many options for delivering their ballots” and that collecting ballots is not protected by free speech.

Kobach said that the majority’s decision was “well-reasoned” and that the Legislature is within its constitutional rights to create proof “to make sure voters are who they say they are.”

That’s exactly what Kobach said about Kansas’s rule to check signatures.

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