KC Streetcar

Lawsuit challenges mail-in election process for Kansas City streetcar expansion

Opponents of Kansas City streetcar expansion have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the mail-in election process to establish the expansion district.

“There are to be no burdens on one’s inalienable right to vote,” said attorney Sherry DeJanes, who filed the lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court. DeJanes and the plaintiffs argue that the mail-in process to create the streetcar expansion district imposed an undue burden on their eligibility to vote.

The lawsuit names as defendants the state of Missouri and 64 Kansas City residents who petitioned the Jackson County Circuit Court to create the expanded streetcar district.

Doug Stone, attorney for the streetcar petitioners, declined to comment.

At issue is the mail-in election that was held this summer to form an expanded transportation development district, which ultimately could lead to extending the downtown streetcar route from Union Station to the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Registered voters approved the new district formation by a vote of 2,458 to 1,048.

The election involved voters living in the area from the Missouri River to 53rd Street and from State Line Road to Campbell Street. But to vote in the election, people didn’t go to the polls. Instead, they had to apply for a ballot from the Jackson County Circuit Court by May 23, obtaining the application form either over the internet or by going to the court. Ballots were mailed on June 20 to those who successfully completed the application process, and the ballots, which had to be notarized, were due back to the court by Aug. 1.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are four elderly residents who didn’t have computers or transportation or found the process extremely cumbersome and difficult, according to the petition. The complaint says that without third party assistance, three of the four wouldn’t have been able to vote.

The mail-in ballot process was authorized by the Jackson County Circuit Court. But DeJanes argues that Missouri’s constitution is even more rigorous in protecting voting rights than the federal constitution, and the transportation development district (TDD) mail-in election process was an unconstitutional infringement on that right.

“The requirements of the Mail-in TDD law are in stark contrast to the requirements of the Mail Ballot Election Act and show how seriously the Mail-in TDD law impinges upon the voting rights of the plaintiffs and other voters in the TDD,” the petition said.

With approval of the streetcar formation, streetcar supporters plan to move forward with an election Oct. 7, at local polling places, to elect members of a new streetcar district board of directors. They also plan another mail-in election early next year in which voters within the district would be asked to approve new sales and property taxes to help pay for streetcar expansion.

But the lawsuit seeks to prevent that process from moving forward.

DeJanes is seeking a temporary injunction against the special Oct. 7 election or the next mail-in election. She also seeks a declaratory judgment that the requirements to participate in this summer’s mail-in election were unconstitutional, thus nullifying the district formation election results that were certified Aug. 4.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley