Douglas County DA won’t prosecute groups under election law that targets registration drives

photo by: Journal-World file photo

Pictured at right is Suzanne Valdez, Douglas County district attorney. At left is the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

A new Kansas law that targets voter registration drives won’t hold much weight in Douglas County.

District Attorney Suzanne Valdez said in a news release Tuesday that her office would not prosecute cases under the law that was enacted this past spring by the Kansas Legislature, saying it has had a “chilling effect” on the work to inform and register voters. The law went into effect on July 1.

Voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters, had suspended their voting registration efforts earlier this month as they challenged the law in court, according to the Kansas Reflector. One of the provisions of the law makes it a crime to engage in activity that “gives the appearance of being an election official.”

“This is not a partisan issue,” Valdez said in the news release. “This law criminalizes essential efforts by trusted nonpartisan groups like the League of Women Voters to engage Kansans on participation in accessible, accountable and fair elections. It is too vague and too broad and threatens to create felons out of dedicated defenders of democracy.”

Valdez said the law’s use of the terms “appearance” and “conduct” were subjective and based on perception. She also said the law attempted to address an issue — impersonating an election official — that was already illegal.

Additionally, she said the law would weaken or deplete voter engagement efforts, which would lead to a “less representative electorate.”

“Normal, everyday, traditional political activities have been declared unlawful and can potentially carry a prison sentence,” Valdez said of the new law. “Even the charge itself is a public record. A felony conviction can affect things like employment and housing, not to mention the loss of voting rights.”

A lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters and other groups is challenging the constitutionality of the new law, alleging it undercuts free speech for organizations working to help Kansans cast a ballot, according to the Kansas Reflector.

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