Kansas Supreme Court upholds signature verification, rejects concept that voting is a 'fundamental right'

 June 3, 2024

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that there is no "fundamental" right to vote in the state's Constitution in a case dealing with election integrity safeguards.

The majority upheld that the legislature may adopt "reasonable" requirements, like signature matching, to prove that voters are who they say they are.

Supreme Court election ruling

In reaching its conclusion about signature matching, the court dismissed plaintiffs' argument that voting is a "fundamental" right under the Kansas Constitution.

Adopting that view would subject voting restrictions to the highest threshold of review, called strict scrutiny, which requires a law to be "narrowly tailored" to a "compelling interest."

The court held that restrictions on voting may pass muster so long as they do not impose additional requirements not mentioned in the Kansas Constitution.

A signature matching requirement does not pose an additional burden on voting, but rather a permissible form of establishing proof that a voter is qualified, Justice Caleb Stegall wrote for the majority.

"Kansas law includes many other 'proper proof' provisions. For example, a person voting at a polling place is required to provide their name, address
(if required), signature, and a valid form of identification," Stegall wrote.

"Common sense"

The sweep of the court's argument alarmed the dissent, which accused the majority of undermining the basic rights of Kansans. But Kansas Republicans argued that applying the "strict scrutiny" standard would make it impossible to enact "common sense" election safeguards.

“If the dissenting opinions had prevailed, it would have made it nearly impossible for us to pass any voting laws,” Republican Pat Proctor said.

“The strict-scrutiny standard would have basically set the stage to remove signature requirements and to remove voter ID requirements."

Other provisions

The court sent the signature verification law back to the lower courts for further testing, noting that "proper proofs" still require "constitutional guarantees such as those of equal protection and due process."

The majority struck down a separate part of the law that makes it a crime to impersonate an election official. Plaintiffs complained it would expose volunteers to prosecution, and the court agreed that the absence of a need to prove criminal intent "sweeps up protected speech in its net."

The court sided with the state in upholding a ban on individuals collecting over 10 absentee ballots. The plaintiffs challenged the ban on free speech grounds, but the court found that "delivering ballots is not speech or expressive conduct."

Republican attorney general Kris Kobach hailed the court for upholding the collection law, calling it "an important way of limiting ballot harvesting.”

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