On Thursday, June 13, 2019, the ACLU of Kansas sued Secretary of State Scott Schwab for overbroad buffer zones around polling locations and Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker for enforcing this buffer zone policy against nonpartisan election workers.
Current Kansas law prohibits electioneering within a 250-foot buffer zone, one of the largest in the country, around any polling place open for voting. The Kansas statute (K.S.A. § 25-2430) is the only one in the country that does not exempt private property located within the zone. The statute is thus geographically overbroad, restricting significantly more speech than necessary to meet the governmental goal of the buffer zone, such as preventing voter intimidation and interference with voters en route to the polls.
Additionally, under K.S.A. § 25-2810, election officials have "control" over voting places under the oversight of the Kansas Secretary of State. Sec. Schwab currently maintains an official policy in which election officials have unfettered discretion restrict any speech or assembly activity within 250 feet of a polling location if they forecast that the activity could become a nuisance. This has resulted in election officials' exclusion many nonpartisan election observers, petition circulators, and journalists across the state. Under Johnson Co. Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker, the Johnson County Election Office an official policy banning all First Amendment protected speech, such as the efforts of nonpartisan voter protection volunteers and signage, throughout the 250-foot buffer zone. Mr. Metsker thus unconstitutionally applied the Kansas statute to nonpartisan election workers.
The ACLU of Kansas brought this suit on behalf of a few plaintiffs: James Clark, Rosanne Rosen, Kansas for Change, Inc., and Daniel DeGroot. Clark, a nonpartisan election protection volunteer in Douglas County, and Rosen, who volunteered in Johnson County and was ejected by Metsker from her polling location, previously worked as election protection volunteers in their respective counties and hope to do so in the future. However, both fear they will be subjected to arrest and prosecution for election misconduct as a result of their election protection efforts.
Kansas for Change, Inc. is a 501(c)(4) organization in Wichita, Kansas that often runs signature petition drive to develop local solutions for cannabis reform. During the special elections in April 2017, Kansas for Change volunteers at several Sedgwick County polling locations were harassed and threatened with arrest because an election judge had determined their non-elecitoneering speech activities would still not be allowed at the polling places. The organization seeks to continue these petition drives, but under Sec. Schwab's policy, is chilled from doing so due to fear of prosecution.
Previously, DeGroot has volunteered to collect signatures and have conversations with voters on various issues in Sedgwick County, including on marijuana decriminalization in April 2017, when he witnessed law enforcement officers called to a voting site because an election judge initiated a complaint that his fellow volunteers were engaged in an election crime. He would like to volunteer again, but fears he will be arrested or prosecuted.
The ACLU of Kansas calls on the court to grant plaintiffs relief from violations of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
On October 7, 2020, the Court ruled in favor of the defendants, finding the buffer zone constitutional and that plaintiff lacked standing in claims against Johnson County.