WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, March 17, a three-judge panel of the Kansas Court of Appeals allowed certain claims in a lawsuit against voter suppression law House Bill 2183 to move forward. The lawsuit — which was filed in 2021 by the League of Women Voters of Kansas, Loud Light, Kansas Appleseed and Topeka Independent Resource Center — alleges that three separate anti-voting provisions of H.B. 2183 violate the Kansas Constitution. Today’s decision from the Kansas Court of Appeals specifically concerns two of the three challenged provisions, including a ballot collection restriction and signature verification requirement. The ballot collection restriction imposes a limitation on the number of advance ballots (mail-in ballots cast before Election Day) that an individual may collect and deliver on behalf of voters to 10 ballots total and subjects those who violate this restriction to a misdemeanor punishable by jail time. The signature verification requirement precludes election officials from counting advance ballots “unless the county election officer verifies that the signature of the person on the advance voting ballot envelope matches the signature on file in the county voter registration records.”
Today’s unanimous decision from the Kansas Court of Appeals reversed an April 2022 ruling by a lower district court that dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims against the ballot collection restriction and signature verification requirement. In its decision reversing the lower court’s dismissal, the Kansas Court of Appeals concluded that the plaintiffs have standing (meaning capacity to sue) and that “the district court should not have dismissed the Plaintiffs’ claims.” Additionally, with regards to both the signature verification and ballot collection restrictions imposed by H.B. 2183, the opinion held that these provisions “impair the right to vote, but due to the fact that the district court used the incorrect test, we remand this matter to the district court to give the State and the Defendants the opportunity to show that the statute can overcome strict scrutiny.” In other words, the court held that the lower court should have employed strict scrutiny — a legal test that requires consideration of whether the state has a compelling interest in infringing on the right to vote — when assessing the constitutionality of the challenged provisions. The opinion specifically stated that “[b]ecause 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.” Today’s decision means that the claims against the ballot collection restriction and signature verification requirement will go back to the lower court and the state will have to defend the legality of these provisions in order for them to remain on the books.
Notably, appellate proceedings in this lawsuit are simultaneously ongoing in the Kansas Supreme Court regarding another challenged provision of H.B. 2183 known as the “false representation provision.” This provision makes it a felony for an individual to knowingly “[r]epresent oneself as an election official, engage in conduct that gives the appearance of being an election official or engage in conduct that would cause another person to believe a person engaging in such conduct is an election official.” A decision from the Kansas Supreme Court regarding a lower court’s dismissal of claims against this provision remains pending.