The Kansas governor made a quiet deal with left-leaning groups to send out voter registration forms. Lawmakers want to ban that from happening again

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly contracted with left-leaning advocacy groups to send 277,000 voter registration forms to Kansans on public assistance before the 2020 election.

Now, legislators want to prevent such a thing from happening again without their input.

Federal law requires state agencies to provide recipients of public assistance with such forms, and a Kansas election official told The Heartlander that Kelly’s action may have prevented a lawsuit against the state for failing to adequately follow the law.

Still, there wasn’t much transparency about the deal Kelly struck, and Republican lawmakers want any such agreements to require approval of legislative leaders in the future. The governor’s agreement has not been made publicly available, and Kelly’s office did not respond to The Heartlander’s request for comment or a copy of the agreement.

Senate Bill 418, now working its way through the Legislature, would provide that the governor “shall not have any authority to modify election laws or procedures by issuance of an executive order.”

Kelly acknowledges she met with several Democrat-leaning groups in November 2019, leading to the 277,000 registration forms being sent out before the 2020 election. Yet inexplicably, a press release announcing the agreement wasn’t made public until October 2021.

Kelly’s agreement with the advocacy groups is said to obligate the state through June 30, 2025. The governor’s press release identifies the groups involved as “Kansas voting rights advocacy nonprofit Loud Light, who was represented by think tank Demos, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kansas, and the ACLU’s national Voting Rights Project.”

The two state agencies involved are the Department of Health and Environment and the Department for Children and Families. 

Demos describes itself as a “think tank that powers the movement for a just, inclusive, multiracial democracy.” Its website boasts that it introduces, mainstreams and moves “bold progressive ideas from cutting-edge concept to practical reality.” It lists litigation as one of its primary activities.

In contrast, a January letter to the Biden administration from 36 House members calls Demos a “radical left-leaning group.” Both the former president and director of legal strategies at Demos now have key positions in the Biden administration, according to the Foundation for Government Accountability.

The letter, from House Republicans, sought an investigation into a Biden executive order that “the head of every federal agency” must submit a plan to Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice to “promote voter registration and voter participation.”

“It makes no sense for agencies that do not enforce federal voting laws to engage in election-related activities,” the letter read. “Commanding every federal agency to develop a plan to engage in this kind of election activity is a blatant overreach of power and authority.”

Are lawmakers in Kansas now in a similar situation?

“Gov. Kelly claims to have met with a coalition led by Demos back in November of 2019,” Stewart Whitson, a visiting fellow of nonprofit advocacy group Opportunity Solutions Project, testified before a Kansas House committee. 

“Sometime after that meeting – we do not know precisely when, because the governor’s office has not released this information to the public – Gov. Kelly unilaterally entered into an agreement to mail hundreds of thousands of voter registration forms to a targeted subgroup of Kansas voters, those receiving welfare benefits from two Kansas state agencies.”

“Kansas election law and procedures should not be subject to changes made behind closed doors, or in backroom dealings by the governor and her staff,” Whitson told The Heartlander. “The governor does not possess the power to legislate; that power belongs to the legislature alone. SB 418 would return that power where it belongs.”

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