By TIM CARPENTER
TOPEKA — A district court judge tossed Tuesday a lawsuit brought by Democrats to force Secretary of State Scott Schwab to implement for the 2020 elections a law allowing voters to cast ballots from any polling station within their home county.
Schwab hailed dismissal of the suit by a Shawnee County District Court judge as evidence his office was faithfully executing its duty to develop rules and regulations necessary for consistent implementation of the balloting reform in Kansas.
In the suit, the Kansas Democratic Party and three national Democratic Party organizations contended Schwab was intentionally dragging his feet on the changes for partisan benefit.
“The hypocrisy of Democrats in demanding the implementation of vote centers while also advocating for the elimination of polling places through all-mail ballot elections is evidence of their systemic ignorance of election law and administration,” said Schwab, a Republican. “Major changes to the administration of our elections should not be rushed out of political impulse or expediency.”
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, also a Republican, said the decision by Shawnee County District Judge Thomas Luedke to dismiss a lawsuit made clear the action brought by Democrats was “about partisan politics, not about the law.”
In dismissing the case, however, Luedke said implementation of the Vote Anywhere act was in the “complete discretion of the county election officials” whether or not Schwab devised rules or regulations to guide them.
Vicki Hiatt, chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party, said she considered that portion of the judge’s ruling a victory because it articulated the right of county election officials to embrace the Vote Anywhere law. The primary election is next Tuesday and the general election is in November.
“County election officials cannot be barred from allowing expanded voting access to all Kansans,” she said. “The Kansas Democratic Party believes that our democracy depends on participation and we have remained committed to making sure as many people as possible can exercise their right to vote safely in this historic election year.”
In February, the national and state Democratic organizations filed suit against Schwab in his capacity as secretary of state and Kansas’ chief elections officer. The action alleged Schwab was thwarting implementation of the Vote Anywhere law passed by overwhelming margins in the Kansas Legislature. The 2019 statute empowered county election officials to permit voters to cast ballots from any polling station in the county.
Sedgwick County was among the first jurisdictions to push for adoption, but Schwab said he wouldn’t complete the rules and regulations by the August primary nor the November general election. The plaintiffs said that was evidence of the secretary of state’s “dereliction of his clear legal duties.”
Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez said when the suit was filed that Schwab was a carbon copy of his controversial predecessor, Kris Kobach, based on actions designed to deter voting. Kansans “deserve better than Schwab’s thinly veiled strategy to suppress votes,” Perez said.
In response, Schwab said Democrats pushing the lawsuit didn’t recognize development of the rules required collaboration of vendors that had to share proprietary information as well as the involvement of Homeland Security officials. He said another challenge was making certain county election offices could deal with technological challenges necessary to synchronize the poll book with voters.
Schwab also said the stream of litigation inspired by the Democratic Party and the American Civil Liberties Union did little more than “weaponize our elections” and deplete taxpayer resources to operate elections.
Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.