National and state Democratic groups have filed a lawsuit against Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab over the failure to implement a new law aimed at making it easier to vote.
The Vote Anywhere legislation, passed last year, empowers county election officials to allow voters to cast a ballot at any polling location in their county.
Schwab, the state’s top elections official, said the option won’t be in place in time for primary or general elections this year because of the complexity of developing rules and regulations and fear of an election-day embarrassment.
The Legislature passed the law by a 38-1 margin in the Senate and 119-3 in the House. It took effect July 1, 2019.
The lawsuit filed in Shawnee County District Court argues that Schwab has a duty to issue the rules and regulations for the law. The secretary's failure to do so “is in dereliction of his clear legal duties,“ the lawsuit said.
The Democrats are asking the court to force the issue.
The petition was filed by the Kansas Democratic Party, Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“Scott Schwab is a carbon copy of his predecessor, Kris Kobach, and his motivation here is simple — to continue to keep people from voting,” said DNC chairman Tom Perez. “The law he refuses to implement, passed with bipartisan support, codifies several commonsense solutions that encourage more people to vote.
“Kansans are excited to cast their ballot at the polling place of their choice. They deserve better than Schwab’s thinly veiled strategy to suppress votes,” Perez said.
In response to the litigation, Schwab said Kansas Democrats chose to litigate rather than discuss development of vote center regulations for Kansas. He said Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly should press her partisan colleagues to drop the case.
“After the disaster in Iowa, it is surprising they are willing to compromise the security and credibility of Kansas elections,” Schwab said. “Democrats should know that implementing new procedures and technology without proper testing, training and oversight will only cause chaos and disenfranchise voters.”
In an interview recorded earlier this week for The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Capitol Insider podcast, Schwab said his office has worked hard to draft the rules and regulations. He complained that politicizing the issue has created a controversy that doesn’t exist.
"Some folks were upset they weren't written already, but they're not simple,“ Schwab said. ”They're very complex."
The process involved collaborating with vendors who had to share competitive secrets, as well as input from Homeland Security.
For a voter to show up at any location and cast a ballot, the county election offices need to clear several technological hurdles involved with synchronizing the poll book, Schwab said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said he was frustrated earlier this year when the secretary made it known the law would not be implemented before fall elections.
Hensley said he suggested the Democratic groups take legal action.
"It's a law that needs to be enforced for the November 2020 elections, if not sooner," Hensley said. "I just think he's made too many excuses here about why he doesn't think he can implement it."