TOPEKA – (October 7, 2020) – A federal district judge has ruled that Kansas law prohibiting electioneering within 250 feet of a polling site is constitutional and does not infringe on First Amendment rights, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said today.
District Judge Holly Teeter dismissed a challenge brought against Schmidt and the Johnson County Election Commissioner by individuals from Douglas, Johnson and Sedgwick counties and the group Kansas for Change, Inc. The plaintiffs claimed their First Amendment speech rights were violated by the state’s restriction on interacting with voters within 250 feet of polling sites. Teeter said the Kansas law is constitutional, pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Burson v. Freemen that rejected a challenge to a similar law in Tennessee.
Teeter said all 50 states have laws restricting electioneering to address problems of voter intimidation and election fraud. She said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there is a compelling interest in protecting citizens’ right to vote and preserving election integrity that justifies limits on electioneering near polling places.
“I appreciate Judge Teeter's ruling that the Constitution permits, and history and common sense favor, these sorts of laws that preserve the right to vote and ensure the integrity of Kansas elections,” said Schmidt, who noted that the Kansas electioneering statute has been on the books since the 1960s. “These laws permit all eligible voters to make their voices heard without intimidation, which goes to the heart and soul of our democratic process.”
The Kansas law prohibits electioneering within a 250-foot radius from the entrance of a polling site. Electioneering is defined as wearing, exhibiting or distributing labels, signs, posters or other materials that clearly identify a candidate in the election or indicate support or opposition to a question submitted election within any polling place on election day or advance voting site during the time period allowed by law.
Teeter noted that a 2018 Attorney General Opinion says that non-partisan voter-assistance activities or signage within 250-feet of a polling entrance does not constitute electioneering because the activities would not be attempting to persuade or influence voters.
A copy of the ruling in Clark et al v. Schmidt et al can be found at https://bit.ly/34xw7P0.