Kansas Supreme Court Rules Anti-Voting Provision Likely Unconstitutional, Upholds Another

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Kansas Supreme Court issued a mixed decision concerning three separate provisions of a 2021 voter suppression law at the center of a yearslong legal challenge from advocacy organizations and individual voters. 

The justices ruled that a provision curtailing voter registration efforts by civic organizations is likely unconstitutional, while upholding provisions that impose strict signature verification rules for mail-in ballots and limit the number of mail-in ballots an individual can collect and return on behalf of other voters.

In the opinion, the justices deemed “constitutionally infirm” a provision that makes it a felony for an individual to knowingly “[r]epresent[] oneself as an election official” or “engage[] in conduct that gives the appearance of being an election official.” 

Voting rights groups alleged that this “false representation provision” is overly vague and poses undue risks to civic organizations, which often engage in voter registration activities that overlap with actions undertaken by election officials. 

The justices in today’s ruling specifically held that a trial court erred when it denied the plaintiffs’ request to temporarily block the false representation provision, and sent the claim back to the district court for further review. 

While a majority of the justices ruled that the voting rights groups were likely to prevail on the merits of their false representation claim, they ruled against the plaintiffs’ challenge to a provision that limits ballot collection. That provision imposes criminal penalties on individuals who help more than 10 voters deliver their ballots — a restriction that the plaintiffs described as “an arbitrary limit that severely curtail[ed] the number of voters who [could] be reached and assisted.”

According to the majority opinion, the ballot collection restriction does not, as the plaintiffs asserted, violate the fundamental right to vote. “The right to vote is not protected in our Bill of Rights,” the decision reads.

Finally, the court maintained that a third provision in the law establishing strict signature matching requirements for mail-in ballots is permissible under the court’s precedent, but remanded the issue back to the district court to consider whether the statute and its implementation comport with the Kansas Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.   

Kansas’ signature matching provisions require election officials to reject mail-in ballots for ostensible mismatches between the signatures on the ballots and those in voters’ registration records. The organizations that brought the lawsuit characterized these signature matching procedures as “standardless” and argued that they serve to “erroneously disenfranchise eligible voters.”

Meanwhile, Republican state officials have defended the challenged statutes as being “designed to safeguard the security of the ballot, deter fraud, facilitate efficient election administration, and enhance the public’s confidence in elections.” 

Following today’s ruling, litigation concerning the plaintiffs’ false representation and signature matching claims will continue in the trial court. 

Read the opinion here. 

Learn more about the case here. 

This story was updated on Friday, May 31 at 3:13 p.m. EDT to reflect that the Kansas Supreme Court’s opinion was a mixed decision as it ruled one of the provisions is likely unconstitutional while upholding two others.