The League of Women Voters of Kansas, Loud Light, Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, and the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center filed a lawsuit challenging newly enacted voting laws that made it a crime to “give the appearance of being an election official,” banned mailing advance ballot applications from out of state, tightened signature match requirements, and forbade assisting in the collection of ten or more advance ballots.
In 2021, the Kansas Legislature enacted new voting laws that restricted the right of individuals and organizations to conduct voter education activities, assist voters in applying for and returning advance (absentee) ballots, and tightened signature match requirements for advance ballots.
HB 2183 allows the state to prosecute persons who knowingly engage in conduct that would “give the appearance of being an election official” or “would cause another person to believe the person” is an election official (“voter education restrictions”). HB 2813 also made it a crime to help more than ten voters deliver their advance voting ballots and imposed a new statewide signature matching requirement for advance voting ballots (“advance voting restrictions”).
HB 2332 bans all people and organizations who are not Kansas residents from mailing or causing to be mailed mailers that include applications for advance ballots (“mailing ban”). The bill also imposes signature match requirements on advance ballot applications by mail.
On June 1, 2021, the League of Women Voters of Kansas (LWV Kansas), Loud Light, the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, and the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center filed a lawsuit in the District Court of Shawnee County, asserting the voter education restrictions, advance voting restrictions, and mailing ban were overbroad and violated the Kansas constitution’s guarantees of freedom of speech and association, the right to vote, and equal protection.
Note: To ensure ease of reading, the course of each claim will be summarized separately below.
Voter Education Restrictions
On June 17, 2021, the plaintiffs requested an emergency injunction against the voter education restrictions.
The court denied the motion for an emergency injunction on September 16, 2021, ruling the voter education restrictions did not violate the plaintiffs’ free speech rights. The denial was affirmed by the Kansas Court of Appeals on June 17, 2022. The plaintiffs then appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court. On February 1, 2023, the Kansas Supreme Court held oral arguments on the Court of Appeals’ decision.
Advance Voting Restrictions
On April 11, 2022, the trial court dismissed the plaintiffs’ non-emergency claims against the advance voting restrictions. The plaintiffs appealed this ruling to the Kansas Court of Appeals. On March 17, 2023, the court of appeals reversed the trial court's decision. Litigation is currently ongoing before the Kansas Supreme Court.
On February 25, 2022, in a separate case, Vote America v. Schwab, a federal court entered a permanent injunction against the mailing ban, forbidding the state from enforcing the restrictions on mailing applications for advance voting ballots, thus providing relief in the League’s case as well as to the mailing ban.
The League is represented by Irigonergaray, Turney, Revenaugh LLP, and Perkins Coie LLP.
LWV Kansas challenges voting and voter education restrictions
The League of Women Voters of Kansas, Loud Light, Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, and the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center file a lawsuit in the District Court of Shawnee County against two new voting laws, HB 2183 and HB 2332, arguing they violate the Kansas constitution.
LWV Kansas seeks emergency relief
LWV Kansas and its co-plaintiffs file for a preliminary injunction against the voter education restrictions, arguing the law criminalizes their voter registration and education activities because voters could inadvertently mistake them for election officials, exposing them to criminal liability under the new laws.
Court denies emergency relief from voter education restrictions
The court denies the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, ruling that because the conduct banned by the voter education restrictions must be ‘knowingly’ committed, the plaintiffs are not at risk of prosecution unless they intentionally misrepresent themselves as election officials.
Federal court permanently enjoins mailing ban
In a separate case, VoteAmerica v. Schwab, the United States District Court for the District of Kansas issues a permanent injunction against the mailing ban. The injunction means the state will not enforce the mailing ban’s penalty for mailing an advance voting application if a Kansas voter requested it.
Court dismisses claims against absentee voting restrictions
The court dismisses the plaintiffs’ claims against the signature verification requirement for advance ballots and restrictions on returning advance ballots for other voters. LWV Kansas and its co-plaintiffs appeal the ruling.
Kansas appeals court affirms denial of emergency relief against voter education restrictions
The Kansas Court of Appeals affirms the trial court’s denial of a temporary injunction against the voter education restrictions, finding the League had no standing to challenge the law.
LWV Kansas appeals to Kansas Supreme Court
The plaintiffs move for review by the Kansas Supreme Court, arguing the Court of Appeals’ decision was incorrect and that the voter education restrictions were vague and continuing to chill the plaintiffs’ free speech rights under the Kansas state constitution.
Kansas Supreme Court holds oral argument on voter education restrictions
Kansas court of appeals reverses trial court dismissal of claims against absentee voting restrictions
The Kansas Court of Appeals reverses the trial court's dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims against the signature verification requirement for advance ballots and restrictions on returning advance ballots for other voters. The court finds the laws burden the fundamental right to vote under the Kansas constitution and remands the case to the trial court, ordering it to apply strict scrutiny, the most stringent level of review to the restrictions at issue.
Federal court strikes down ban on mailing personalized advance ballot applications
In a separate case, VoteAmerica v. Schwab, a federal court issues a permanent injunction against HB 2332's ban on persons or organizations who solicit registered Kansas voters by mail from mailing advance mail ballot applications that are pre-filled with voters' information, such as name or address. Violations of the ban were punishable by jail time and/or fines. The court rules the ban violates the First Amendment of the United States constitution.
Kansas supreme court agrees to review appeals court decision
The Kansas supreme court accepts defendants' petition for review of the court of appeals' decision on signature verification requirements for advance ballots and restrictions on returning advance ballots for other voters.
LWV Kansas moves for an injunction pending appeal
LWV Kansas requests the Kansas supreme court issue an injunction preventing the advance voting restrictions in H.B. 2183 from taking effect while the appeals process continues.
Kansas supreme court denies motion for injunction
The court denies the motion for an injunction, stating it does not have the factual findings necessary to issue a ruling.