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Voting Rights Groups Challenge Kansas Limits on Mailing Out Ballot Applications

Out of state voting advocacy groups challenge Kansas' controversial limitations on what can be mailed to voters.

Out of state voting advocacy groups challenge Kansas' controversial limitations on what can be mailed to voters.

Flanked by Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman, left, and Senate President Susan Wagle, Gov. Laura Kelly outlines her agenda for the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature in the annual State of the State address Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

(CN) --- Voting advocacy groups headquartered in California and Washington, D.C. challenged Kansas’ newly passed mail-in-voting restrictions in federal court on Wednesday.

The Kansas Legislature passed HB 2332 on May 3, after overriding a veto from Democratic Governor Laura Kelly. Portions of the law ban out-of-state organizations like VoteAmerica and Voter Participation Center from distributing advanced-voting applications to Kansans and further prohibits mail-in-ballot applications from being distributed to voters with their information filled in.

In their 34-page lawsuit, California-based organization VoteAmerica and Washington DC’s Voter Participation Center argue that these prohibitions violate their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

During the 2020 election, the Voter Participation Center sent 60 million absentee voting applications out nationwide during the 2020 election, including 90,000 applications across the Sunflower State. VoteAmerica's efforts led to nearly 70,000 Kansas voters requesting mail-in-ballots for the 2020 election.

To vote by mail, eligible Kansasans must file an application with their county between April 1 and the Tuesday before primary elections, or 90 days before the Tuesday before the general election.

Increasing vote-by-mail or advanced voting, the organizations argue, increases voter turnout. The organizations argue the new restrictions limit effective non-partison voter outreach campaigns.

"HB 2332 prohibits plaintiffs from employing their most effective means of persuading voters to engage in the democratic process: mailing advance mail ballot applications to registered Kansas voters, complete with a pre-addressed return envelope, and personalizing those applications by prefilling the individual’s name and address information,” the lawsuit contends.

"Providing Kansas voters with printed copies of advance mail ballot applications sends a powerful message encouraging eligible Kansans to vote with advance mail voting ballots, reassuring Kansans that voting by mail is safe and secure, and emphasizing the importance of democratic participation by every eligible citizen,” the lawsuit explains. “This type of ‘interactive communication concerning political change’ is ‘core political speech.’”

Through their website, VoteAmerica allows residents in Texas, Montana, Ohio and Utah to fill out applications to vote-by-mail online, and then print them out to sign and mail in. The organization intended to offer this service to Kansas voters, with the option to receive their filled-out application by mail as well, but are unable to with HB 2332 on the books.

The law is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

“Although Kansans have cast millions of ballots over the last decade, there remains no evidence of significant voter fraud in Kansas," Gov. Kelly said in a statement issued when she vetoed the election reform. "This bill is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. It is designed to disenfranchise Kansans, making it difficult for them to participate in the democratic process, not to stop voter fraud."

The plaintiffs ask the court to enjoin Kansas from enforcing the contested portions of the law and to award attorneys' fees.

The voting advocacy groups are represented by Lathrop GPM attorney Tedrick Housh, out of Kansas City, Missouri.

Requests for comment sent to the attorney general’s and secretary of state’s offices were not immediately responded to.

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