UPDATED: Election law will start despite ongoing legal challenge

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(Updated to add the League of Women Voters had suspended voter registration activities).

A new election law that bans anyone from falsely representing themselves as an election official will start Thursday despite an ongoing legal challenge.

Four groups – the League of Women Voters of Kansas, Loud Light, the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center – had asked a judge to immediately block that part of a broader election law.

They sought a partial temporary restraining order to immediately stop part of the law that addresses falsely representing election officials.

It starts July 1.

However, Shawnee County District Judge Teresa Watson said she would not hold a hearing on the request for the partial injunction until after it had been fully briefed.

The lawyers for the state said the plaintiffs had not consulted them before seeking the temporary injunction and their travel schedules made it impossible for them to be available for a hearing this week

A subsequent order from the court clerk gave the state until July 12 to answer the litigation.

Meanwhile Loud Light – a nonprofit group that advocates for voting rights – said it would shut down its voter registration efforts until the court rules on the temporary injunction.

The League of Women Voters announced early Wednesday evening that it too had halted voter registration events because of the law.

“This new voter suppression law irreparably harms Kansans every day it remains in effect,” Loud Light’s founder Davis Hammet said in a statement.

“Kansans miss the opportunity to be engaged, our team misses its right to exercise free speech, and our democracy is undermined,” Hammet said.

“We remain optimistic that the court will block the law so that we may resume normal operations in the near future.”

Early in June, the four groups filed a lawsuit in state court challenging parts of two election bills – HB 2183 and HB 2332 – passed by the Legislature this session.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed both bills but she was overridden by supermajorities in the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Two weeks ago, the groups filed a motion asking a judge to immediately stop part of a new law that bans anyone from holding themselves out as an election official.

The lawsuit says the bill’s broad language “gives arbitrary discretion” in determining what constitutes conduct that may appear to be an election official.

The law specifically bans anyone from acting in a way that “would cause another person to believe a person engaging in such conduct is an election official.”

But a judge refused to hold a hearing on the request until the matter had been briefed.

Critics said this provision could lead to Kansans being charged with a crime just by helping someone register to vote.

The motion argued that the law will hinder efforts to register voters going into local elections this summer and fall.

The local primary elections are set for Aug. 3 and the voter registration deadline for that election is July 13.

The lawsuit notes that violation of the law is a class 7 nonperson felony that could mean a jail sentence of 17 months and fines up to $100,000.

The plaintiffs contend the law directly limits free speech without sufficient justification, it’s too broad and “impermissibly vague.”