By Roxana Hegeman, Associated Press
BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab must release the names of people who cast provisional ballots in the 2018 general election, including whether their votes were counted, a Kansas judge ruled, handing a victory to a group that wants to expand voting rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas on Tuesday called the court’s decision a “resounding rebuke” to Schwab’s office and a win for all Kansas voters.
“Now that we’ve secured the right to access this information, our client can start letting voters know if their votes counted in the last election and help Kansans who encounter similar problems in upcoming elections,” Lauren Bonds, the legal director for the ACLU of Kansas, said in a statement.
Shawnee County District Judge Teresa Watson issued her ruling Friday in a lawsuit filed last month on behalf of Loud Light, a nonprofit group whose mission is to increase voter turnout, and voting rights advocate Davis Hammet.
Schwab’s office blasted the decision.
“The Kansas Judiciary, once again, paid disrespect to the intent of policy,” Schwab said in a statement. “Our priority has been, and will continue to be, that every voter has the right to cast a ballot without fear of harassment, intimidation, or retaliation. The entitlement of these activist organizations to confidential information of those they also claim to champion is sad.”
About 29,000 provisional ballots were cast in the 2018 general election in Kansas, the ruling noted.
Voters are given provisional ballots if they do not appear to be registered, if they fail to present the required identification, if their signature doesn’t match the one on file, or if they are trying to vote at the wrong polling place.
Loud Light sought the release of the 2018 provisional voter information so that it can help voters correct the problems that caused them to be given provisional ballots, such as correcting mismatched signatures in voter registration records or telling them what ID they’ll need to present and what polling site they’re supposed to use.
The group intends to submit similar requests for the 2020 primary and general elections.
The lawsuit stems from a September request by Loud Light and Hammet for information in the state elections database as well as registration and poll books.
The ACLU sued after a nearly 300-day delay in the fulfillment of the open records law request and multiple attempts to avoid litigation. Schwab’s office refused to release the records, citing state and federal statutes that it claimed prohibit such disclosures — an argument the judge rejected.