Democrats sue over Kansas delay in start of 'vote anywhere'

JOHN HANNA
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Voting Law Delay Kansas

In this Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, photo, Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab answers questions during an Associated Press interview in his office in Topeka, Kan. Schwab is facing criticism from some legislators for saying his office needs another year to prepare for allowing counties to permit voters to go to any polling place they choose on Election Day. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas and national Democratic Party groups on Friday sued the Republican official who oversees the state's elections, accusing him of violating voters' rights by delaying the implementation of a law designed to make voting on Election Day more convenient.

The lawsuit was filed in state district court in Topeka after Secretary of State Scott Schwab said his office would need another year to draft regulations needed for counties to take advantage of a 2019 state “vote anywhere” law. The law permits counties to allow voters to cast their ballots at any polling place within their borders on Election Day, rather than only at a single site.

Some officials in Sedgwick County, home to the state's largest city, Wichita, believe it is ready to allow voters to choose their polling sites. They note that it has allowed voters to cast their ballots in advance at multiple locations for more than a decade, with the county's entire electronic voter registration database accessible to workers at each one. It also deployed new voting machines in 2017 that allow a “vote anywhere” system.

The Kansas Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee and the two national party committees for U.S. Senate and U.S. House campaigns filed the lawsuit. But Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said three weeks ago that he and others were contemplating a lawsuit.

“Schwab is dragging his feet to enforce a bill that became law that had widespread bipartisan support to make it more convenient to vote,” Hensley said Friday. “Maybe this will encourage him to enforce the law.”

The Democratic groups are seeking a court order to either force Schwab to issue the necessary regulations or to allow counties to move ahead with “vote anywhere” plans for this year's elections.

Schwab said earlier this week that he's writing “a book” of regulations needed to make sure that counties' electronic registration lists remain secure and that their computer systems don't crash on Election Day. He also said problems with the recent Democratic presidential caucuses in Iowa showed the need for caution.

In a statement Friday night, he called on Democrats to drop the lawsuit and urged Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to ask them to do so as well.

“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.”

But the lawsuit contends that delayed implementation of the “vote anywhere” law makes it harder for people to vote. The law was aimed at helping people who live on one side of Wichita and have jobs on the other side and who may not have time to vote after work.

The lawsuit claims delaying implementation of the law violates the state's Bill of Rights, including its guarantees of people's right to associate with others and their broad rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

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