Kansas Anti-Voter Law Targeting Civic Engagement Groups Is Blocked Permanently

Issues
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A pen lying across an absentee ballot application

In a victory for civic engagement groups that assist with voter registration in Kansas, the state agreed to a permanent injunction of its law prohibiting the distribution of mail ballot applications by out-of-state persons or entities.

The permanent injunction, ordered on Feb. 25, 2022, will also hopefully set a precedent that will help groups nationwide who are working to get people the materials they need to exercise their right to vote ahead of the primary elections.

Last year, the Kansas legislature overrode the governor’s veto to pass a law, H.B. 2332, which barred out-of-state entities from mailing advance mail ballot applications to any voter in the state and violated these organizations’ First Amendment free speech rights to encourage voter engagement.

H.B. 2332 also criminalized the mailing of advance mail ballot applications personalized with the voter’s name, address and other information, even if the voter provided that information and specifically requested an advance mail ballot application from the civic organization sending the personalized application.

In June 2021, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and co-counsel Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLC filed suit in federal court on behalf of two nonpartisan charitable organizations, VoteAmerica and the Voter Participation Center, to challenge this blatant anti-voter law.

In November, the court temporarily blocked these provisions of H.B. 2332 by issuing a preliminary injunction.

While this win was previewed by the court’s earlier preliminary injunction ruling, it is still very much welcome. It permanently protects Kansans’ freedom to vote and the free speech rights of civic engagement groups.

As was the case across the country, the 2020 elections in Kansas were safe and secure and had high turnout. Over 1.3 million Kansans participated, an increase of nearly 6% over the 2016 presidential election, and according to the Kansas City Star, the Secretary of State said the state had a “free and fair” election.

Voter engagement efforts aimed at assisting voters to successfully vote by advance mail ballot helped make this record setting election possible.

However, Kansas is one of a record number of states that have passed or enacted legislation limiting Americans' freedom to vote since. Many of these bills and laws have targeted vote-by-mail and voter registration efforts.

Kansas’ now halted law is similar in part to Georgia’s S.B. 202. CLC is also challenging parts of that law for severely restricting the ability of third parties to provide voters with assistance requesting, obtaining and submitting mail ballot applications.

Polling suggests that people across the country strongly support efforts to give voters more ways to vote safely, like expanding early voting and voting-by-mail. Americans deserve to be able to exercise our freedom to vote to make our voices heard on the issues that matter most to us — like healthcare, education and job creation.

To ensure voters continue receiving vital assistance with navigating confusing voting systems and exercising their right to vote, CLC will continue to protect the critical role that civic engagement groups play in promoting democratic participation.

The latest order out of Kansas should serve as a warning to lawmakers in other states about what could happen if they create deliberate barriers to voting and stand in the way of civic engagement groups.

Georgia is a communications assistant at CLC.
Combatting Anti-Voter Laws in the States