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Can you be charged with a felony for helping Kansas voters get registered? That's back in court

A voter registration drive.
Stephen Koranda
Kansas News Service
A voter registration drive in Topeka. Some groups canceled drives like this in response to a controversial Kansas law.

The Kansas Supreme Court has revived a challenge to a law that caused voter advocacy groups to cancel registration drives.

The Kansas Supreme Court has revived a challenge to a state law that caused advocacy groups to cancel voter registration drives.

The justices ruled Friday that the Kansas Court of Appeals wrongly threw out a legal challenge. The new decision brings the lawsuit back to life after the lower court knocked it out by ruling that the advocacy groups did not have standing to challenge the law.

The justices sent the lawsuit back to the appeals court to consider again.

Teresa Woody, litigation director for Kansas Appleseed, one of the plaintiffs, said they are pleased with the ruling and hope to see the statute enjoined permanently.

“It’s so important because these kinds of statutes that make it more difficult to participate in our political process and in our democracy are anti-democratic,” Woody said.

The League of Women Voters, Loud Light and other groups challenged the 2021 law because it makes it a crime to engage in conduct that would cause someone to believe you are an election worker.

The groups argue it’s so vaguely written that simply handing out voter information or running a registration drive could lead to felony charges. That’s because the law is based on impressions. Charges could be triggered by someone simply concluding that people running a voter registration drive are acting like election officials.

In response, multiple nonprofits suspended or limited efforts to educate and assist prospective voters.

The Supreme Court justices unanimously said in the decision that the stakes are high.

“Is there actually a credible threat of prosecution … in the case of an innocent or unreasonable listener mistake?” Justice Caleb Stegall wrote. “Given the plain language of the statute, we think the answer must be yes.”

The justices specifically noted that they are not ruling on the merits of the lawsuit, only on whether the legal challenge should continue.

Attorneys for the state say the advocacy groups are creating an unrealistic scenario when they say voter registration efforts could lead to felony charges.

“This case presents a completely manufactured controversy,” an attorney for the state, Bradley Schlozman, argued earlier this year.

As the Kansas News Service managing editor, I help our statewide team of reporters find the important issues and breaking news that impact people statewide. We refine our daily stories to illustrate the issues and events that affect the health, well-being and economic stability of the people of Kansas. Email me at skoranda@kcur.org.
Calen Moore covers the people, places and issues of western Kansas for the Kansas News Service.
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