Kansas vote calls for navigating new maps and laws as registration deadline nears

TOPEKA — Kansas vote advocacy organizations are grappling with what new congressional and legislative maps mean for registration efforts, while navigating a new law that interferes with their work.

The Kansas Supreme Court issued separate rulings last month declaring that congressional and legislative maps approved by the Republican-led legislature complied with the state constitution. The ruling overturned a district judge’s opinion that the Congressional map moving Lawrence from the 2nd District to the 1st District and dividing the Democratic stronghold of Wyandotte County was unconstitutional.

Connie Brown Collins of the Wyandotte County Voter Rights Network said community members have been reluctant to get involved in politics in the past, but the new maps have heightened feelings of ambivalence.

Collins said it’s critical that organizations do what they have to, even going door-to-door, to mobilize and make sure voters know what’s at stake if they don’t vote.

“Wyandotte County will come back stronger, and I think Lawrence and other counties across the state will feel like they’ve been bruised during the redistricting process,” Collins said. . “Hopefully others will pick up the slack and we won’t forget.”

The Legislature redraws the state’s four congressional districts and the boundaries of the state House and Senate seats based on the results of the U.S. Census every 10 years. The cards reflect population shifts from rural to more urban areas.

Legislature Republicans have worked to undermine the re-election prospects of U.S. Representative Sharice Davids, a Democrat representing the 3rd District. The new congressional map removes from its district voters north of Interstate 70 in Wyandotte County who supported it in previous elections. Several groups filed lawsuits arguing that the new maps targeted voters on the basis of race and politics to create an unfair advantage for Republicans.

Collins is among activists hoping to ensure that voters who feel disenfranchised by these changes do not disengage from the political process altogether. But some groups say they cannot work effectively to register voters and improve voter turnout because of provisions House Bill 2183.

The law prohibits “knowingly” engaging in “conduct that gives the appearance of being an election official” or “would cause another person to believe that a person” is an election official.

Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, said that instead of actively taking to the streets and engaging with voters, groups like his are extremely careful not to break the law. Loud Light is among those advocacy groups currently in a legal battle in the Kansas Court of Appeals over the validity of the law after a failed injunction attempt.

“There are plenty of reasons to be frustrated, like Lawrence being surgically cut out to try and dilute their voting strength,” Hammet said. “But we’re in this weird thing where a lot of the ways you would thwart that are criminalized.”

The defendants argued that the law does not criminalize such recording efforts because they should “knowingly” impersonate a public official.

Hammet said his organization had registered 10,000 Kansans in 2020, but because of the law and because the court has yet to issue a ruling, they have not registered any this year. The voter registration deadline for the Aug. 2 primary is July 12.

Martha Pint, co-chair of the Kansas League of Women Voters, said redistricting efforts and electoral policy changes are meant to deter voters from going to the polls.

“When you put all of those things into the mix, I think there will be a lot of very upset and upset voters in this election cycle,” Pint said.

Part of the process for groups like the league, Pint said, is clearing up confusion and overcoming obstacles created by the new election law.

“I have bills to pay, and I have things to do, and my daycare closed, and now you want me to vote?” said Pint. “We have to try to overcome these obstacles above the changing district lines. It stacks up. »

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